Japan | Freedom House

Freedom on the Net


Freedom on the Net 2014
Population: 127.3 million
Internet Penetration: 86 percent
Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked: No
Political/Social Content Blocked: No
Bloggers/ICT Users Arrested: No
Press Freedom Status: Free
2014 Freedom On the Net Total (0 = Best, 100 = Worst) 22

2014 Scores

Freedom on the Net Status


Freedom on the Net Total
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

(0 = Best, 100 = Worst)

Obstacles to Access
(0 = best, 25 = worst)

(0 = Best, 25 = Worst)

Limits on Content
(0 = best, 35 = worst)

(0 = Best, 35 = Worst)

Violations of User Rights
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

(0 = Best, 40 = Worst)
  • 2013 Freedom On the Net Total (0 = Best, 100 = Worst) 22
Key Developments: 

May 2013 - May 2014

  • Politicians embraced social media to campaign during July 2013 senate elections after outdated restrictions on digital electioneering were revised in April (see Limits on Content).
  • A state secrets law introduced 10-year jail terms for leaking or publishing classified information in December 2013, despite local and international concerns about its overbroad definitions and lack of oversight (see Violations of User Rights).
  • The May 2013 “My Number” law will track residents’ access to government services via electronic ID cards from 2015, prompting fears about data security (see Violations of User Rights). 

The use of the internet as a political communications tool expanded during the coverage period of this report. July 2013 saw the first elections since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revised restrictions on online campaigning in April.[1] Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won control of the senate, consolidating a resounding victory in the 2012 general election.

Japan’s constitution protects all forms of speech and prohibits censorship, while the government, especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, maintains a hands-off approach to online content, which is generally regulated voluntarily by industry players. Internet penetration is over 80 percent. Major Japanese companies such as Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) and Fujitsu offered ISP services in the 1990s, while mobile carrier NTT DoCoMo pioneered the world’s first large-scale packet-based mobile internet service, i-mode, in 1999. Despite strong access and a broad lack of content restrictions, however, some legislation disproportionately penalizes specific online activities.

As part of the Abe administration’s strategy to boost national security, lawmakers passed the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets in December 2013, prompting street protests in the capital supported by social media users around the country. The legislation, which criminalized both leaking and publishing ill-defined national secrets regardless of intent or content, has repercussions for journalists, whistleblowers and civil society watchdogs, particularly in the age of the internet. In July 2014 in a review of Japan’s human rights practices, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said the legislation laid out “a vague and broad definition of the matters that can be classified as secret” and “high criminal penalties that could generate a chilling effect on the activities of journalists and human rights defenders.”[2]

Data security also made headlines. A new law introduced ID numbers for Japanese residents, to be stored electronically and linked to personal social security and healthcare information, sparking privacy concerns. Police and ministers consolidated initiatives to combat domestic and international cybercrime, and in June 2013 the Chief Cabinet Secretary announced the creation of the post of Cabinet Information Communications Policy Officer.[3] Yet many feared the new ID system would be vulnerable to cyberattacks or improper access by corporations, after news reports documented private sector players sharing consumers’ digital records without informed consent.

Obstacles to Access: 

In general, Japanese people experience few obstacles to internet access. Internet penetration among households overall in 2013 remained slightly over 86 percent,[4] and 97.8 percent for businesses.[5] 

During 2013, mobile access continued to increase among Japanese internet users utilizing various appliances. Smartphones were particularly popular, surging in growth from 49.5 percent in the previous year to 62.6 percent.[6] Tablet utilization also grew from 15.3 to 21.9 percent.[7] The popularity of internet-enabled game consoles connected to television sets, also known as “family computers” in Japan, also increased from 29.5 percent in 2012 to 38.3 percent as of the end of 2013.[8] Dial-up internet connections plummeted from 11.6 percent in 2012 to 1.9 percent by the end of 2013, while broadband connections grew by almost the same amount from 79.2 percent to 88.5 percent during the same period.[9] Access is high quality with competitive speeds. While landline or fixed phones showed a very slight decrease—from 79.3 percent to 79.1 percent—fax machines usage grew from 41.5 percent to 46.4 percent during 2013.[10]

The average cost of internet access is around JPY 5,000 (US$50) per month,[11] though many providers bundle digital media subscriptions, Voice over IP (VoIP) and email addresses, pushing expenses higher. While this remains within reach of most, declining average incomes make staying connected increasingly costly, especially for the younger generation.[12]

Mobile penetration reached 109 percent in 2013.[13] Increasing smartphone use has made the market more competitive. Japan has four major mobile operators, but the top three—KDDI Au, NTT Docomo, and Softbank—all use the CDMA wireless network or a variant. Domestic coverage is extremely high. The fourth carrier, Y!Mobile, was formed in August 2014 from a merger of two companies: Emobile, formerly a 3G company that had an agreement with Docomo for roaming, and Willcomm, which was a PHS carrier offering an affordable alternative to CDMA with more limited range. In early summer 2014, the government announced plans to require cellphone carriers to unlock the SIM cards in mobile phones if requested by users, facilitating the use of third-party prepaid SIM cards.[14] According to 2013 data published, the average household in Japan spends around JPY 6,925 ($69) for mobile service per month, or JPY 83,099 yen ($830) per year.[15]

NTT, formerly a state monopoly, was privatized in 1985 and reorganized in 1999 under a law promoting functional separation between the company’s mobile, fixed-line, and internet services.[16] Asymmetric regulation, which creates stricter rules for carriers with higher market share, helped diversify the industry, though critics say the expense of switching providers—and the inconvenience of losing an email address and other services—ties customers to the dominant players and creates a barrier for new entrants.[17] While the telecommunications market looks open, therefore, with hundreds of providers offering FTTH, DSL, CATV, FWA, and BWA services, the NTT group remains dominant in practice.[18] No major foreign operators have successfully penetrated the telecommunications market, with the exception of smartphone devices manufactured by Apple and Samsung, though many invest in, or partner with local providers. Competition between Softbank, formerly the exclusive provider of Apple’s iPhones, and the NTT group intensified with NTT Docomo’s announcement in September 2013 that it reached an agreement with Apple to add iPhone handsets and iPads to its mobile product lineup.[19]

There are few infrastructural limitations on internet access in Japan. However, a dual system of mobile communications has existed since the introduction of NTT Docomo’s i-mode service. The capability to access the internet through mobile phones has existed since 1999, and flat-rate data plans have been available since 2004.[20] For that reason, there has been little demand for enhancing Wi-Fi access.[21]

In the past two years, with the rapid increase in the number of smartphone and tablet users, calls for increased Wi-Fi access have been growing. In June 2013, NTT’s Docomo announced an expansion in LTE base stations to augment its Xi LTE and FOMA 3G services.[22] Providers such as Asahi-net offer WiMAX plans with mobile routers capable of accessing multiple networks throughout the country.[23] The private Wire & Wireless offers free Wi-Fi access in restaurants, coffee shops, and some train stations; registration requires an email address.[24]

The vulnerability of Japan’s communication network became apparent in March 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan’s east coast and caused a nuclear disaster. Infrastructure was severely damaged, leaving many people without service for periods from a few days to one month, and restricting relief efforts. Mobile phone usage dropped by almost half in the affected areas.[25]

Network congestion and server outages—the result of increasing smartphone traffic due in part to many applications sending automatic signals every minute—also frequently affect mobile use. KDDI, one of three major mobile carriers, reported large scale disruptions in December 2012, and January and April 2013. NTT Docomo also dealt with four interruptions in July and August in 2012 alone. Fewer disturbances were reported during the coverage period.

There is no independent regulatory commission in Japan, though observers believe that the industry has generally improved in the past 12 years under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), which regulates the telecommunications, internet, and broadcast sectors.[26]  Nongovernmental, nonprofit organizations supported by the relevant companies in the sector have been formed to self-regulate the industry. These include television’s Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization, the Content Evaluation and Monitoring Association for mobile platforms, and the internet’s Content Safety Association, which manages blocking of child pornography online.[27]

Limits on Content: 

Politicians embraced social media to campaign during the July 2013 Upper House elections after outdated restrictions on digital electioneering were revised during the previous coverage period. Activists and civil society also used digital tools to promote local civic causes. Hate speech promulgated by nationalistic right-wing (netouyo) commentators against South Korean residents of Japan spread online, but so did counter-campaigns to combat racism. During a November 2013 protest against state secrets legislation in the capital, Twitter users expressed support nationwide.

No direct political censorship has been documented in Japan. ISPs voluntarily filter child pornography, and many offer parents the option to filter other immoral content to protect young internet users.[28] Depictions of genitalia are pixelated to obscure them for internet users based on a common—though poorly-articulated—interpretation of article 175 of the penal code, which governs obscenity.[29] Otherwise, individuals or police instruct ISPs to administratively delete contested or illegal content. The Internet Hotline Center, operated through the Internet Association Japan as part of a contract with the National Police Agency, cooperates with ISPs to solicit reports of illegal or harmful content from the public.[30] While the center received a record high of 196,474 calls in 2012, according to its annual statistics report for 2013, it received 130,720 reports from January to December 2013.[31] Their breakdown of reports by type includes 22.7 percent involving illegal information (information involving illegal activities such as public displays of obscene materials or “publicly inciting or soliciting others to abuse controlled substances”), 2.6 percent involving harmful information (information that could invite illegal conduct, related to suicide, or which is “difficult to judge as illegal but seems to be illegal”), and 74.7 percent which “were beyond scope of its operational guidelines, including defamation, slander, murder notices, intellectual property infringement, information inappropriate for children, and other cases.”[32] Providers are not obliged to comply, but most cooperate.

The 2001 Provider Liability Limitation Act directed ISPs to establish a self-regulatory framework to govern take-down requests involving illegal or objectionable content, defamation, privacy violations and copyright infringement.[33] In 2002, industry associations produced guidelines designed to protect ISPs from legal liability within the jurisdiction of the Japanese courts. Under the guidelines, anyone can report material that infringes directly on their personal rights to the service provider, either to have it removed or to find out who posted it. No third party can do so. The provider notifies the individual who posted the content, and either fulfills the request with their permission or removes the content without the authors’ approval if they fail to respond within two weeks. If the poster refuses permission, the service provider is authorized to assess the complaint for themselves, and comply if they believe it is legitimate. In this scenario, an ISP could give the complainant information to identify the poster—such as their name or IP address—without that person’s consent, leading to privacy concerns. This process is voluntary, but by complying, service providers protect themselves from civil liability.[34] In practice, many citizens say service providers have failed to remove libelous content.

Police sometimes intervene more directly, and their emphasis on security over transparency occasionally threatens internet freedom.[35] In April 2013, they recommended ISPs and website administrators cooperate to block IP addresses used by Tor—which allows internet users to disguise their location by connecting through a network of other computers—in order to prevent criminals from abusing the service, which also has many legitimate applications.[36] 

The threat of official content restrictions looms periodically during public debates about child safety, though carriers and content producers have successfully resisted intrusive regulation. In 2007, the MIC ordered mobile operators to install filtering software enabling parents to control content seen by their children. A coalition of groups, including the Japan internet Providers Association and the user rights organization Movement of Internet Active Users lobbied against the mandate, and mobile users can now select voluntary filters. [37] Complaints to the official Consumer Affairs Agency about quasi-gambling functions in games played by children on mobile devices shot up in 2011, along with calls for government regulation.[38] In 2012, game developers Gree and DeNA Mobage voluntarily adopted caps on purchases of virtual items by minors instead.[39] Games integrated with social networks have also been criticized for their potential for abuse by sexual predators.

Private interests also pressure ISPs to restrict content. In 2012, a coalition of music rights advocates were reportedly offering to sell service providers a tool to detect whether material being uploaded to the internet is subject to copyright, and sever connections of users violating Japan’s strict copyright laws.[40]

Japanese citizens exercise some self-censorship online, often on historical and social issues. The society at large prefers “harmony,” and people avoid criticizing the role of Japan’s Emperor, especially when connected with historic issues like World War II. Individuals and public figures who break this code risk censure and even attacks from right-wing fanatics, who notoriously tried to assassinate the Nagasaki mayor on these grounds in the 1990s. Though exceptional, incidents like this still exert a chilling effect on Japanese expression.

YouTube, Twitter, and international blog-hosting services are freely available, as are popular domestic platforms like Nico Nico Douga, a video-sharing site, and LINE, a chat application launched in 2011. 

In late 2013 and early 2014, the use of the internet as a public relations and communications tool by high-level politicians and national-level ministries continued to increase. One engineer ranked their popularity during July 2013 elections for the upper house, the first to take place with no limits on digital campaigning immediately before the polls.[41] In addition to the prime minister’s official Facebook page, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan (MOFA) created general accounts, as well as for specific programs and embassies, on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr.

Japan’s stance on foreign relations was also communicated to an international internet audience. In a nod to the importance of foreign relations with China, MOFA also opened accounts on Chinese social networks such as Sina Weibo and Douban.[42] In the aftermath of the controversy following the posting of a video on YouTube showing a collision between Japanese Coast Guard vessels and a Chinese fishing boat,[43] MOFA posted two 90-second video clips to a YouTube channel that represented Japan’s historic relationship with the disputed Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands).[44]

There are few known cases of the government or powerful groups proactively manipulating online news or other content. In a significant exception, officials and the Tokyo Electric Power Company withheld data about pollution after a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture was severely damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and citizens unwittingly exposed themselves to radiation. The MIC requested that four industry associations monitor false or unsubstantiated content circulating about the disaster online, including on social networks. Some observers said this was a measure to control public discourse, though deletions were not widespread. Service providers removed content, which included images of corpses, in at least 13 cases,[45] though the national police agency reported 41 items for review.[46] Others found an outlet to report on the aftermath of the disaster online.[47]

Some news reports from the past year expressed concern about nationalistic discourse by Japanese web trolls, or netouyo, escalating into hate speech online, particularly targeting South Koreans and Chinese communities amid territorial disputes between Japan and their respective governments.[48] Abe’s stance on these active rivalries, as well as historic ones, does nothing to calm the situation. In December 2012, he said he was reconsidering apologies Japan had made for acts of wartime aggression, including one for forcing Asian and European women to work in army brothels, which he denied was coerced. While he later retracted this position,[49] an advertisement with a government seal that appeared to support such a revisionist history was widely circulated on social media in 2013, though it turned out to be a fake.[50] The incitements to violence directed at South Korean and Chinese people—and unpatriotic activity in general—which flourished on websites like 2channel, were far more extreme, but they were arguably rooted in the same nationalist discourse, which threatens to undermine the diversity of voices being heard in Japanese cyberspace.[51]

Blogs have a significant impact on public opinion, and several independent journalists are becoming influential through personal or commercial websites and social media accounts. Yet most online media remain small and community-based,[52] with no major national successes, and the mainstream media’s habit of compliance and restraint may be standing in the way of the combative online news culture flourishing elsewhere in Asia.[53] Kisha clubs, formal organizations only open to traditional media companies, and an advertising market that favors established players, may be preventing digital media from gaining a foothold in the market. Kisha clubs provide essential access to officials in Japan, but discriminate against new media practitioners. In 2012, at least one online journalist was denied access to one of their Tokyo locations,[54] and the only two freelancers permitted to join an official group of 40 reporters on a tour of the nuclear disaster site were forbidden from taking equipment.[55] In the meantime, independent online news outlets have struggled to sustain themselves financially. OhmyNews, a South Korean platform, established a Japanese operation in 2006, but closed in 2008. The U.S.-based Huffington Post digital media website launched a Japanese-language version in May 2013.[56]

Much digital activism was also effective at a local rather than a national level, including maps sharing public information about disaster relief.[57] During the coverage period, activists also monitored online slurs and used digital tools to map racist graffiti proliferating in Tokyo.[58] One movement with a wider reach was a November 2013 protest against state secrets legislation. While street protests were concentrated in the capital, Twitter users around the country expressed support with hundreds of thousands of messages.[59] In September 2014, outside the coverage period of this report, the government tabled draft revisions to the legislation after soliciting comments from the public in August.[60] 

Violations of User Rights: 

In December 2013, Japan passed an unpopular state secrets law carrying prison sentences of up to 10 years for individuals who publicize classified information—regardless of whether or not they expose wrongdoing. Objectors said it was hurried through by the administration, which gained overbroad powers to categorize information as secret and to adjudicate over alleged leaks without independent oversight. News reports said police detained at least 20 people under a punitive copyright law during the coverage period, but no disproportionate sentences were reported. Despite growing concern about cybersecurity in Japan, the Diet, Japan’s bicameral parliament, passed a “My Number” law in May 2013 which will introduce ID numbers tied to electronic data chips as a means to access government services for residents of Japan in 2015. Privacy advocates said legislation to protect individuals was falling behind such digital solutions, illustrated in Tokyo in 2014 when supermarkets were reported sharing security camera images of customers through an electronic network without consent.

Article 21 of Japan’s constitution prohibits censorship and protects freedom of “speech, press and all other forms of expression,” as well as the “secrecy of any means of communication.” [61] In general, individuals and media can exercise this in practice, though social and legal constraints exist.

In July 2013, the LDP won the senate after gaining a landslide electoral victory in the lower house of parliament, in December 2012.[62] In May 2012, while still in the opposition, the party had proposed revising the constitution.[63]  Critics said their draft promoted conservative nationalism, replacing the subject of the constitution—currently the people of Japan—with the nation state, and subjugated “freedoms and rights” to “public interest and public order.”[64] While the revision, which would have required a significant political mandate, was abandoned, the LDP-majority parliament adopted a regulation to reinterpret a post-war constitutional limit on Japanese intervention in overseas conflict in mid-2014, part of a strategy to strengthen national security.[65] 

One facet of that strategy had implications for digital freedom of expression. The Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets passed in December 2013, despite objections from the opposition, civil society, and protesters. The law gives a range of officials the discretion to indefinitely restrict public information pertaining to national security and any one of the categories of defense, foreign affairs, “prevention of designated harmful activities” (such as “counter-intelligence”), and prevention of terrorism.[66] Overseen by government officials rather than an independent body, it offers no protection for whistleblowers who reveal wrongdoing, leaving it open to misuse against Wikileaks-style whistleblowers and journalists.[67] For those people who handle such state-designated secrets, intentional leaks are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and unintentional by up to 2 years, while individuals who knowingly receive such secrets from an administrative organ for the sake of the public interest risk up to 5 years for intentional disclosures and 1 year for disclosures via negligence.[68] Draft revisions announced in September 2014 could address some elements that were subject to critique, if passed.[69]

A 2013 revision of the Public Offices Election Act undid long-standing restrictions on use of the internet for election campaigns for the first time. Limits remain on paid online advertising and campaign emails, which could only be sent directly by a party or candidate—not a supporter—in a measure designed to prevent fraud, though members of the electorate can freely solicit support on social media.[70] While these provisions were contested and revisions are still planned,[71] news reports during the coverage period said politicians violating these restrictions face a potential JPY 300,000 ($3,060) fine or one year in prison; imprisonment would strip them of political rights to vote or run for office. Voters found improperly soliciting support for a candidate via email could be fined JPY 500,000 yen ($5,100) or jailed for two years, which would also deprive them of political rights.[72] However, no citizens faced politically motivated arrest or prosecution for content they have published online during the coverage period.

Other laws include potentially disproportionate penalties for online activity, including a 2012 legal revision targeting copyright violators—including any internet user downloading content they know has been illegally copied, as opposed to those engaged in piracy for commercial gain.[73]  While both uploading and downloading pirated material was already illegal under the copyright law, with uploaders subject to 10 years imprisonment or fines up to JPY 10 million ($102,000), the version in effect since October 1, 2012 added two years in jail or fines up to JPY two million ($20,500) for downloading a single file.[74] The Japanese Bar Association said that downloading, as an essentially insignificant personal act, should be regulated by civil, instead of criminal laws.[75] Some news reports said police conducted an antipiracy crackdown, arresting at least 19 people nationwide in February 2014.[76] Details of the detainees’ activities were not publicized and no disproportionate sentences were reported.[77]

Article 175 of the Japanese penal code bans the sale or distribution of broader categories of obscene material, and while it dates from over 100 years ago, it is considered to apply online. [78] However, it does not define what constitutes obscenity, leading to concerns that it may infringe on artistic expression and LGBT rights.[79] At the same time, Japan lacks restrictions on child pornography and hate speech online, which are acceptable to limit under international law.[80] Laws passed in 1999 and 2003 outlawed the production, distribution, and sale of hardcore child pornography, including electronically,[81] but possessing it for non-commercial use remains legal except in Kyoto prefecture, central Japan, where police arrested three people for purchasing child pornography online for the first time in September 2012 under an ordinance in effect since the previous January.[82] Although nationalistic hate speech and incitement to racially motivated violence is proliferating online, the government has taken no action to curb it on grounds it is already criminalized under the penal code; yet police in 2012 were more likely to use the relevant clauses to prosecute antinuclear demonstrators than groups with on- and offline slogans that included exhortations to “kill Koreans.”[83]

Japan’s Supreme Court protects privacy through its interpretation of Article 13 of the constitution, which provides for the right to life and liberty.[84] “Secrecy of communication” is also protected under telecommunications laws,[85] though some digital activities require registration. Major mobile carriers require customers to present identification documents in order to subscribe, while prepaid SIM cards are not widely available. Internet cafe users are required to produce formal ID such as a driver’s license and register their name and address. Police can request these details, along with usage logs, if they detect illegal online activity.

Under voluntary guidelines drafted by four ISPs in 2005, service providers automatically inform police of internet users identified on pro-suicide websites, and comply with law enforcement requests for information related to acts of self-harm.[86] A law enacted in 2003 and revised in 2008 prohibits electronic communications encouraging sexual activity with minors.[87] Under the law, all online dating services must register with police, verify their customers’ ages with a driver’s license or credit card, and delete or block content that appears to involve someone under 18; most services voluntarily monitor messages in real time to ensure compliance.

Under a wiretap law enacted in 1999, law enforcement agents may seek a court order to conduct electronic surveillance in criminal investigations involving drugs, firearms, human trafficking, or organized murders, an exception to articles of other laws that explicitly forbid wiretapping.[88] The law obliges agents to notify targets of wiretaps after investigations are concluded and inform the Diet about the number they implement annually. While the law was extremely controversial when it passed, in part due to the authorities’ politicized abuse of surveillance in the past,[89] lawmakers were seeking to expand it in December 2012.[90] Critics say the law does not prevent the systematic storage of intercepted communications or protect innocent parties.[91] Security agents and the military have been accused of implementing surveillance in cases involving national security.[92]

A law to protect personal information dating from 2003 protects individuals’ data collected electronically by private and public sector organizations, where the data involves more than 5,000 records.[93] Law enforcement requests for this data should be supported by a warrant.[94] In April 2014, local news reported that 115 supermarkets and convenience stores in the Tokyo area had contracted with a Nagoya-based software firm to automatically record images of shoplifters and unreasonable customers to share in a network for other stores to blacklist.[95] While the businesses cited security measures, critics said sharing biometric data without consent conflicts with Japan’s personal privacy law, Act on the Protection of Personal Information, No. 57 of 2003, which includes facial images within its definition of personal information. Japan Railways East (JR Higashi Nihon) also sparked a debate over privacy and consent when it announced that it would be offering anonymized data collected through prepaid IC fare cards (SUICA cards), to third-party companies.[96][97]

A “My Number” law proposed by the cabinet in 2012 passed the Diet on May 24, 2013.[98] Under this system each resident (including non-Japanese residents) will be assigned a unique ID number, from October 2015.[99] Starting from January 2016, this number, which appears on a photo-ID card containing an electronic data chip, will be used for unified social-welfare services, including taxes, pensions, and healthcare.

The “My Number” system is the most recent in a series of attempts to nationally unify Japan’s Basic Resident Registry procedures. The first was made in 2002 with the introduction of the Resident Basic Register Network System (known as RRNS or “Juki Net”), which was established to facilitate sharing information among local governments in the case of residents who move, register births and deaths, and apply for social services.[100] Even upon its introduction, the issue of a nationally available registry service was contested based on privacy issues, with some local municipalities choosing to opt out of the system (such as Tokyo’s Suginami Ward and Yamatsuri town in Fukushima prefecture).[101] However, in response to a suit filed by 12 individuals in Aichi prefecture, the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Juki Net was constitutional and all citizens were subject to mandatory enrollment.[102]

Similar privacy debates focusing on the “My Number” system were ongoing during the coverage period. Politicians and bureaucrats said personal identification numbers would streamline social benefits and maintain accuracy and fairness in the provision of government services,[103] as well as assist in identifying individuals in the case of natural disasters.[104] The benefits that the new system would bring to Japan’s IT industry were also highlighted.[105] However, the system’s opponents cited the potential for the leakage of personal information and identity theft, as it remains unclear how the data would be stored in order to provide services offered through multiple levels of government.[106] The Japan Federation Bar Association in 2012 highlighted the system’s possible privacy issues when the bill was first introduced.[107] In May 2013, the Japan Medical Association also contested the new system based on security issues involving medical records.[108] Others said its planned expansion into other government-related services, including potential use by the private sector, could also facilitate fraudulent use of personal data.[109]

No physical violence has been reported against bloggers or internet users in relation to their online activity.

While distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks were part of the arsenal used by nationalists in Japan, China, and South Korea to target perceived opponents in other countries, and cyberattacks have been reported against commercial and government targets,[110] they are not known to have been used to systematically target individuals or civil society groups. 

In May 2013, the Kanagawa and Osaka police departments established separate divisions for addressing cybercrime,[111] adding to police departments in Tokyo and 12 other prefectures.[112] In June, the Abe administration added the legislative position of “Chief Information Officer” to the national-level cabinet,[113] and the Information Security Policy Council within the National Information Security Center released a 55-page report entitled “Cybersecurity Strategy,” setting out basic principles including “ensuring a free flow of information” and “responding to increasingly serious risks” online.[114] Japan also held bilateral talks with the U.S. concerning cybersecurity mid-year,[115] culminating in a joint statement released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Japan and the national business federation Keidanren pledging cooperation in cross-border data flows.[116] This was followed by a second strategic plan entitled “International Strategy on Cybersecurity Cooperation – j-initiative for Cybersecurity,” which set out general principles for responses to cyber incidents and called for international rulemaking for cybersecurity.[117]


[1] Ayako Mie, Election Campaigning Takes to Net: New law Opens Web to Candidates, Voters Ahead of Upper House Poll, Japan Times, April 11, 2013, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/04/11/national/election-campaigning-takes-to-net/#.UY8XXqIqzFE.

[4] International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2014,” http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx.

[5] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “Communication Service Use Trend, 2013” [in Japanese],

[6] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “White Paper Information and Communications in Japan 2014” [in Japanese], http://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/whitepaper/ja/h26/pdf/n5300000.pdf.

[7] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “White Paper Information and Communications in Japan 2014” [in Japanese], http://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/whitepaper/ja/h26/pdf/n5300000.pdf.

[8] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “White Paper Information and Communications in Japan 2014” [in Japanese], http://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/whitepaper/ja/h26/pdf/n5300000.pdf.

[9] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Information and Communications Database, Trends in internet connection means from computers in the home, http://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/field/tsuushin01.html [in Japanese].

[10] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “White Paper Information and Communications in Japan 2014” [in Japanese], http://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/whitepaper/ja/h26/pdf/n5300000.pdf.

[11] Informal Freedom House survey of providers’ costs, 2013. 

[12] The average monthly income for working households in 2010 was 700 yen (US$7) less than it was in 1990. See, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “Average Monthly Income and Expenditure per Household (Workers) 1955-2010,” Statistics Bureau, http://www.stat.go.jp/data/chouki/zuhyou/20-06.xls.

[13] International Telecommunication Union, “Mobile-cellular Telephone Subscriptions, 2000-2013.”

[14] Japanese cellular carriers to get ministry call to ‘unlock’ cellphones. Asahi Shimbun. June 29, 2014.

[15] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “White Paper Information and Communications in Japan 2014 [in Japanese],


[16] “Law Concerning Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, Etc.,” 1984, amended 2005, available on the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications website, http://www.soumu.go.jp/main_sosiki/joho_tsusin/eng/Resources/laws/NTTLaw.htm.

[17] Toshiya Jitsuzumi, “An Analysis of Prerequisites for Japan’s Approach to Network Neutrality,” paper submitted to the Proceedings of the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference 2012, http://bit.ly/1dPQDcb.

[18] Minoru Sugaya, “Regulation and Competition in the JP Broadband Market,” presentation, Pacific Telecommunications Council, January 15, 2012, http://bit.ly/16U0HvB.

[25] Izumi Aizu, “The Role of ICTs During the Disaster,” Global Information Society Watch Report (Association for Progressive Communications: 2011) http://www.ispp.jp/ispp-wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/EarthquakeICT0825.pdf.

[26] Before 2001, regulation was managed by the now-defunct Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, and before that, the Diet.

[27] Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization, “About BPO,” http://www.bpo.gr.jp/?page_id=1092; Content Evaluation and Monitoring Association, “About EMA,” http://www.ema.or.jp/en/index.html; Internet Content Safety Association, “About the Organization,” http://www.netsafety.or.jp/.

[28] “Japan Internet Providers Block Child Porn,” Agence France-Presse, April 21, 2011, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jQdti3UuXNuAqabydVSloqy5rRcA?docId=CNG.40acf6c3c3e92addbe546909e145276a.191; Electronic Network Consortium, “Development and Operation of the Next-Generation Rating/Filtering System on the Internet,” press release, via New Media Development Association, April 30, 1999, http://www.nmda.or.jp/enc/rating2nd-en.html.

[29] Amanda Dobbins, "Obscenity In Japan: Moral Guidance Without Legal Guidance," 2009, Available at Selected Works, http://works.bepress.com/amanda_dobbins/1.

[30] Internet Hotline Center Japan, “Annual Statistics 2013,” http://www.internethotline.jp/statistics/2013e.pdf.

[31] Internet Hotline Center Japan, “Annual Statistics 2013,” http://www.internethotline.jp/statistics/2013e.pdf.

[32] Internet Hotline Center Japan, “Annual Statistics 2013,” http://www.internethotline.jp/statistics/2013e.pdf.

[33] “Act on the Limitation of Liability for Damages of Specified Telecommunications Service Providers and the Right to Demand Disclosure of Identification Information of the Senders,” November 30, 2001, available at UNESCO, http://www.unesco.org/culture/pdf/anti-piracy/Japan/Jp_%20LimitLiability_Telecom_en.

[34] Business Software Alliance, “Country Report: Japan, 2012,” http://cloudscorecard.bsa.org/2012/assets/pdfs/country_reports/Country_Report_Japan.pdf

[35]charles, “Japan: Police Remove Messages from Cell Phone Social Networking Sites,” OpenNet Initiative, https://opennet.net/blog/2009/04/japan-police-remove-messages-cell-phone-social-networking-sites.

[36] Phil Muncaster, “Japanese Feds Urge ISPs to Support Tor Ban Plan,” The Register, April 22, 2013, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/04/22/tor_japan_police_ban/.

[37] Izumi Aizu, “Country Report: Japan, 2009,” Global Information Society Watch, http://bit.ly/16AioGr.

[38] Ishaan, “Japanese Social Games Risk Seeing Crackdown,” siliconera, May 7, 2012, http://www.siliconera.com/2012/05/07/japanese-social-games-risk-seeing-crackdown/.

[39] Dr. Serkan Toto, “Self-Regulation: Dena Introduces Payment Caps For Minors On Mobage [Social Games],” Japan Mobile And Social Games Consulting, April 24, 2012, http://www.serkantoto.com/2012/04/24/dena-mobage-payment-caps/.

[40] Enigmax, “Jail For File-Sharing Not Enough, Labels Want ISP-Level Spying Regime,” TorrentFreak, June 24, 2012, https://torrentfreak.com/jail-for-file-sharing-not-enough-labels-want-isp-level-spying-regime-120624/.

[45] Madeline Earp, “Freelance, Online Reporting Discouraged on Nuclear Threat,” CPJ Blog, April 14, 2011, http://www.cpj.org/blog/2011/04/japan-discourages-freelance-online-reporting-on-nu.php; Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “Demand for Telecommunications Carriers Associations Regarding the Appropriate Response to False Rumors on the Internet Related to the Great East Japan Earthquake,” press release, April 6, 2011, http://www.soumu.go.jp/menu_news/s-news/01kiban08_01000023.html;

[46] National Police Agency, “For Police Responding to False Rumors on the Internet,” June 21, 2011, http://www.npa.go.jp/archive/keibi/biki/cyber/0621ryuugenhigo.pdf.

[49] “Abe: No Review of Kono Statement Apologizing to 'Comfort Women,'” Asahi Shimbun, February 1, 2013, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201302010077.

[50] Keiko Tanaka, “No More Apologies – Japan's Facebook Users Share ‘Fake’ Propaganda,” April 19, 2013, Global Voices, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/04/19/no-more-apologies-japans-facebook-users-share-fake-propaganda/.

[51] Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Freedom of Hate Speech.”

[53] Roger Pulvers, “Danger Lurks When Self-restraint Segues into Media Self-censorship,” Japan Times, January 10, 2010, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2010/01/10/commentary/danger-lurks-when-self-restraint-segues-into-media-self-censorship/#.Uh9hEhukpTY.

[54] Keiko Tanaka, “Online Journalist Barred from Japan's Diet Press Hall,” Global Voices, October 12, 2012, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/10/12/online-journalist-barred-from-japans-diet-press-hall/.

[55] Reporters Without Borders, “Freelance Journalists Face Discrimination On Fukushima Plant Visit,” May 23, 2012, http://en.rsf.org/japan-freelance-journalists-face-23-05-2012,42669.html.

[56] Arianna Huffington, “Postcard From Japan: Talking Zen, Abenomics, Social Networking and the Constitution With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” Huffington Post, May 9, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/shinzo-abe-arianna-huffington_b_3245338.html.

[61] “Constitution of Japan November 3, 1946,” available at Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet, http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/constitution_and_government_of_japan/constitution_e.html.

[62] “Japanese Prime Minister's Party Scores Win in Senate Elections,” Agencia EFE, July 21, 2013, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/agencia-efe/130721/japanese-prime-ministers-party-scores-win-senate-elections.

[63] Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, “LDP Announces a New Draft Constitution for Japan,” May 7, 2012   http://www.jimin.jp/english/news/117099.html. Japanese text available at Liberal Democratic Party of Japan: http://www.jimin.jp/policy/policy_topics/pdf/seisaku-109.pdf.

[64] Michael Hoffman, Constitutional Revision May Bring Less Freedom,” Japan Times, February 3, 2013, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/02/03/national/constitutional-revision-may-bring-less-freedom/#.Uh5iBBukpTY.

[70] “Editorial: Internet Election Campaigns can Change Japan's Politics,” Asahi Shimbun, April 20, 2013,


[71] Ida Torres, “Japan’s Internet Election Campaigning Ban One Step Closer to Being Lifted,” Japan Daily Press, April 4, 2013, http://japandailypress.com/japans-internet-election-campaigning-ban-one-step-closer-to-being-lifted-0426427/.

[72] Ayako Mie, “Election Campaigning Takes to Net;” “Japanese Parliament Permit Use of Internet Campaigning During Elections,” TJC Global, April 20, 2013, http://tjcglobal.wordpress.com/tag/public-offices-election-law/.

[73] Daniel Feit, “Japan Passes Jail-for-Downloaders Anti-Piracy Law,” Wired, June 21, 2012, http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2012/06/japan-download-copyright-law/.

[74] Maira Sutton, “Japan's Copyright Problems: National Policies, ACTA, and TPP in the Horizon,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, August 21, 2012, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/08/copyright-japan.

[75] “Japan Introduces Piracy Penalties for Illegal Downloads,” BBC, September 30, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19767970.

[76] Some had uploaded TV and music. See, “27 People Arrested in Simultaneous Crackdown of Copyright Violations Across Country,” JWSSN News, February 23, 2013, http://blog.livedoor.jp/misutiru7878/archives/24818756.html; Bryan Bishop, “Japanese Authorities Arrest 27 in Nationwide File-Sharing Crackdown,” The Verge, March 3, 2013, http://www.theverge.com/2013/3/3/4059720/japanese-authorities-arrest-27-in-nationwide-file-sharing-crackdown.

[77] See, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2014-02-28/19-arrested-for-unauthorized-file-sharing-in-japan.

The Fukuoka Prefecture Cybercrime Unit arrested a 22-year-old suspect in Nagasaki on August 28, 2014 who used a P2P software program called "Micro torrent" on April 16, 2014 in his home to download 14 songs, including "Love Forever" with the intent to distribute such works covered by copyright as recognized by the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC). Nishinippon Shimbun [West Japan Newspaper], August 28, 2014, http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/flash/f_kyushu/article/110653.

[78] James R. Alexander, “Obscenity, Pornography, and the Law in Japan,” Asian-Pacific Law and Policy Journal 4, no.1 (February 2003), available at University of Pittsburgh Johnstown, http://faculty.upj.pitt.edu/jalexander/Research%20archive/Japanese%20obscenity%20law/Oshima%20article.pdf; “Penal Code, Act No. 45 of April 24, 1907,” available at Japanese Law Translation, http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?ft=2&re=02&dn=1&yo=penal+code&x=0&y=0&ky=&page=1.

[79] Keiko Tanaka, “Japan's Porn Law is Strangling Artists,” February 18, 2013, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/02/18/japans-porn-law-is-strangling-artists/.

[80] United Nations Human Rights, “Freedom of Expression Everywhere, Including in Cyberspace,” November 4, 2011, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Freedomofexpressioneverywhere.aspx.

[81] William Sparrow, “Japan's Lolita Merchants Feel the Heat,” Asia Times Online, February 23, 2008, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JB23Aa02.html.

[82] Tomasz Janowski and Teppei Kasai, “Pressure on Japan for Stronger Laws on Child Pornography,” Reuters, September 19, 2012, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/09/19/us-japan-pornography-idUKBRE88I07H20120919.

[83] Tessa Morris-Suzuki, "Freedom of Hate Speech.”

[84] Privacy International, “Chapter i: Legal Framework,” in Japan, December 12, 2006, https://www.privacyinternational.org/reports/japan/i-legal-framework.   

[85] Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, “Telecommunications Business Act,” December 25, 1984, http://www.soumu.go.jp/main_sosiki/joho_tsusin/eng/Resources/laws/pdf/090204_2.pdf.

[86] Carolina A. Klein, “Live Deaths Online: Internet Suicide and Lethality,” American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 40 no. 4 (December 2012) 530-536, http://www.jaapl.org/content/40/4/530.full.

[87] Akira Saka, “Regulation for Online Dating in Japan,” presentation Keio University, 2008, http://saka.jp/lecture/ChildProtenctionbyRetulationOnlineDatingSites2.pdf.

[88] Privacy International, “Chapter ii: Surveillance,” in Japan, December 12, 2006, https://www.privacyinternational.org/reports/japan/ii-surveillance-policy.

[89] In 1997, a court ordered the government to pay a senior member of the Japanese Communist Party 4 million yen [US$35,500] in damages for illegally wiretapping his residence in the 1980s. See, “Tokyo, Kanagawa Bow to Wiretap Ruling,” Japan Times, July 7, 1997, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/1997/07/10/national/tokyo-kanagawa-bow-to-wiretap-ruling/#.Uh-8fRukpTY.

[90] Tsuyoshi Tamura, “Legal Panel to Discuss Wiretapping for Wider Range of Crimes,” Asahi Shimbun, December 25, 2012, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201212250065.

[91] Privacy International, “Chapter ii: Surveillance.”

[92] “Japan's Military Watched Citizens: Communist Party,” Reuters, via bdnews24, June 6, 2007, http://bdnews24.com/world/2007/06/06/japan-s-military-watched-citizens-communist-party.

[93] Business Software Alliance, “Country Report: Japan.” 

[94] Privacy International, “Chapter iii: Privacy Issues,” in Japan, December 12, 2006, https://www.privacyinternational.org/reports/japan/iii-privacy-issues.

[101] See, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2007/02/02/national/juki-net-constituti... Privacy International, “Chapter iii: Privacy Issues.”

[102] Rebecca Bowe, “In Japan, National ID Proposal Spurs Privacy Concerns,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, June 13, 2012, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/06/japan-national-id-proposal-spurs-privacy-concerns.

[107] Japanese Bar Association, “Statement Submitted to Parliament and the Cabinet Regarding the ‘Social Security and Tax Number System’ Bill,” February 15, 2012, http://www.nichibenren.or.jp/activity/document/statement/year/2012/120215_6.html.

[110] “Over 1,000 targeted cyber-attacks hit Japanese entities in 2012,” Japan Times, March 1, 2013,