Bills formed, driven by international pressure

by Setsuko Kamiya

A package of bills allowing investigators to wiretap private communications resulted from pressure from the global community calling on Japan to provide a legal framework to help efforts to crack down on international organized crime.

The bills, however, were hastily passed without much public debate in the Lower House Tuesday, prompting opponents to express grave concerns that citizens’ human rights could be violated.

Drug smuggling, trafficking of firearms and entry by illegal immigrants have increased in recent years, causing serious public concern.

Crimes by members of Aum Shinrikyo, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people and injured thousands, have served as another key reason behind the government’s bid to reinforce laws to combat such crimes.

But what drove the government to submit the bills may in fact have been the voice of international society urging stronger cooperation to prevent underworld crime organizations from money laundering activities.

Ever since the 1989 Group of Seven summit in Paris, the tightening of measures against organized crime beyond national borders has become one of the main issues at the discussion table in international meetings.

Because Japan is the only country among leading industrial nations that lacks regulations allowing the monitoring of private communications during crime investigations, supporters of the bills pointed out that the creation of legislation was necessary to prevent Japan from becoming a haven for crime syndicates.

According to the Justice Ministry, the Financial Action Task Force — an international committee that examines measures to counter the laundering of profits made by underworld syndicates through drug trafficking and other crimes — reported last June that Japan’s legislation against money laundering needed improvement.

As host and chair of the FATF meeting at the end of this month, the government plans to report on the Diet’s debate on the bills before the 27 other member nations.

Countermeasures against organized crimes will also be included in the communique of the Group of Eight’s summit in Cologne, Germany, scheduled for June 18-20.

However, lawyers and experts opposing the bills claim that despite calls for Japan’s cooperation in cracking down on organized crime, the international community is not specifically pressuring Japan to introduce laws for eavesdropping.

A Justice Ministry official said that the FATF has never called on Japan by name to demand that it legitimize the monitoring of communications in organized crime investigations.

The hastily arranged Diet schedule has deprived the public of a chance to discuss the balance between public security and privacy.

The government and the ruling parties explain that the bills require “strict possible premises” before investigators can conduct monitoring activities.

They added that the bills constitute the “most stern regulations for investigative authorities,” compared with similar systems among developed countries.

The bills leave many evasive points that could violate ordinary citizens’ secrecy of communications and protection of privacy — without them knowing.

Investigators allowed to conduct wiretaps are not obliged to inform the subject of monitoring activities — even after the close of an investigation — if his or her conversation is considered irrelevant to the crime under investigation.

With the effective absence of opposition forces’ momentum in the Diet, the bills are expected to be enacted by the end of the current session, leaving fears and concerns that the bills could intrude into the everyday lives of ordinary people unanswered.