Top court: Juki Net not against the Constitution

Kyodo News

The Supreme Court declared as constitutional Thursday the Juki Net national resident registry network, which links basic residency registries at local-level authorities nationwide by compiling citizens’ basic personal information.

The top court’s five-justice First Petty Bench ruled in local governments’ favor in all four separate lawsuits involving the constitutionality of the network.

Justice Norio Wakui, who presided in the cases, said data to be stored in the Juki Net database are out of the scope of confidential information involving personal moralities.

“There are no substantial risks of information leakages or their misuse for purposes other than originally intended,” Wakui said.

The decision is the first by the highest court to declare the Juki Net does not infringe on the right to privacy and is constitutional.

Juki Net was launched in August 2003. It links basic residency registries at local governments across Japan by compiling citizens’ basic personal information and assigning an 11-digit code to each person.

Among the four cases is an appeal against a 2006 Osaka High Court ruling in favor of plaintiffs that said incorporating opponents of the network into it without their agreement is unconstitutional.

The three others are appeals against high court decisions that ruled in favor of local governments in Chiba, Aichi and Ishikawa prefectures.

Thursday’s decision was anticipated as the top court held a hearing Feb. 7 on the appeal against the Osaka High Court decision to listen to arguments from both plaintiffs and defendants, signaling it would overrule the Osaka High Court decision.

The Supreme Court customarily opens a hearing before overruling a lower court decision. On Nov. 30, 2006, the Osaka High Court ruled that incorporating opponents of the Juki Net into it without their consent was unconstitutional, overturning a February 2004 Osaka District Court ruling that turned down residents’ demands.

The high court ordered the governments of three cities in Osaka Prefecture to delete resident registry codes and data on four of 16 plaintiffs in the suits.

But the Osaka High Court turned down the plaintiffs’ demand for damages.

Two of the cities, Suita and Moriguchi, filed an appeal against the decision. The third, Minoo, did not appeal.

In the suits, the plaintiffs sought damages from the city governments. Some also demanded that their resident registry codes and data be deleted from the network.

In the court battle, the plaintiffs argued Juki Net infringes on their right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution.

They also insisted the network violates their right to control by themselves information of their own.

Article 13 of the Constitution says: “All of the people shall be respected as individuals. Their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness shall, to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare, be the supreme consideration in legislation and in other governmental affairs.”

At the Feb. 7 hearing at the Supreme Court, the defendants demanded that the high court decision be overruled, saying the misuse of the network is strictly banned.

The plaintiffs argued the network involves risks of misuse because there is no substantial mechanism to monitor and prevent possible misuse.

In a news conference Thursday, Hiroshi Yamamoto, who headed a group of lawyers representing plaintiffs in the suits, criticized the Supreme Court for not responding to the people’s concerns over infringement of their right to control their own information.

“The Supreme Court has abandoned its duty as a watchdog of the Constitution by skipping the key point in the lawsuit. The top court ruling simply repeated the government claim and added almost no judgment of its own,” Yamamoto said.

Many Juki Net lawsuits have been filed with district courts.