A package of five controversial personal information protection bills, which are feared to threaten freedom of the press, were passed into law Friday.
The ruling coalition comprising the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and the New Conservative Party voted for the bills at a plenary session of the House of Councillors while the four opposition parties voted against them.
Critics have warned that the government may arbitrarily interpret the laws to excessively intervene in the activities of private companies, particularly the news media, noting that the bills do not clearly define businesses that deal with personal information.
"The legislation is aimed at regulating not only the mass media but also all the citizens' freedom of speech and expression," Miki Myochin, chairwoman of the Japan Federation of Press Workers' Unions, said. "It makes only a vague definition of the press."
In a statement, the Japan Magazine Publishers' Association pointed out that the passage of the legislation without sufficient discussions has left a root for future evil. "Magazine publishers are obligated to strictly examine whether freedom of speech, which is the foundation of society, is being infringed and constantly report the situation," the statement said.
The package comprises three laws that cover private businesses, government organizations and independent administrative agencies, respectively, a law on the establishment of a panel that deals with appeals by alleged violators and a law concerning enactment of other relevant laws.
The law regulating private businesses requires them to publicize the purpose of using personal information, and imposes restrictions on their provision of such information to other organizations and individuals.
Cabinet ministers in charge are authorized to issue recommendations or orders to businesses dealing with personal information. Those who refuse to follow ministers' orders could face up to six months in prison of a fine of not more than 300,000 yen. The legislation stipulates that ministers in charge must not exercise their authority to issue orders to those who provide information to the media.
The law governing government bodies sets penal provisions for government officials who leak personal information without proper reasons.
Provisions for the basic principles of personal information protection and national and local governments' obligations come into force when the laws are promulgated.
Provisions for obligations of private businesses dealing with personal information as well as penal provisions are to take effect within two years after they are promulgated.
The original personal information protection bills that were bitterly criticized for infringing freedom of the press were scrapped last December.
The government revised the scrapped bills to delete clauses that were criticized for infringing the freedom of the press, and submitted them to the legislature in March this year. They cleared the House of Representatives earlier this month.
The opposition parties submitted to the Upper House a proposal to revise the bills to empower a third-party body, not the ministers in charge, to issue recommendations or orders, but they were voted down.
Instead, the chamber approved a resolution urging the Diet to consider whether to establish such a third-party body three years after the laws take effect. (Compiled from Mainichi and wire reports, May 23, 2003)
Japan passes personal information protection bills, MAINICHI Daily News Mainichi INTERACTIVE 2003, May 23rd. Retrieved from http://mdn.mainichi.co.jp/ （2003/06/03 available）毎日新聞社提供