Internet dangers abound

This year’s annual National Police Agency white paper, titled “Toward Building a Safe Internet Society,” focuses on the dark side of the Internet, including its negative influences on children and its use in cyber-crime. It correctly points out that as Internet-related information and communication networks become more deeply connected with social and economic activities, people need to recognize the negative aspects, and that parents and Internet-based enterprises must work to rectify this situation. This is the second time that the annual police report has focused on the Internet — in 1998 it examined high-tech crimes.

Last year the police investigated a record 3,161 cyber-crime cases that included arrests, an increase of more than 50 percent from the previous year. At least 1,408 of those cases were said to be related to Internet auction fraud — 2.6 times more than in the previous year.

Meanwhile, a record 84,173 people sought advice from the police and other organizations concerning Internet-related problems, such as being billed for services they never used. The number of people who experienced such problems had increased nearly five times in half a decade.

The white paper also mentions other threats to Internet users such as spyware, which retrieves information stored in personal computers, and “phishing,” a routine in which computer users are guided to false Web sites for the purpose of stealing their personal information such as credit card details. It underlines the need to establish a system under which an Internet communications log is kept for a period of time and to improve the technology for electronic data analysis to facilitate investigations of cyber-crimes.

Given the rapid progress of information technology, the possibility of large-scale cyber-terrorism that targets infrastructure such as electricity, gas and water utilities, airline services, financial services, public transport and communication facilities cannot be ruled out. It is important that the government, business enterprises and citizens be aware of the dangers inherent in today’s Internet society.

The white paper notes the ease with which children can access harmful information posted on the Internet, since nearly half the nation’s households have broadband connections. Readily available information includes pornography, advice on committing suicide, bomb-making instructions and advertisements for socially questionable activities. The posting of obscene images, child pornography and information on the availability of stimulant drugs constitutes a crime.

According to a poll of 2,271 junior and senior high school students in Aomori, Tokyo, Shiga, Okayama, Kagawa and Kagoshima prefectures and their 2,196 parents, conducted in November and December 2005 by an NPA study group, 92 percent of the children knew that obscene images could be seen via personal computers or cell phones, and 25 percent of them — 49 percent of male high school students — had actually viewed such images.

Eighty-six percent of the children knew of the existence of Web sites that focus on suicide, and 76 percent knew of Web sites that displayed violent images (although these Web sites were not visited as often as obscene Web sites). The poll found that children in most families use the Internet without restrictions, and that parents do not seem very concerned about taking concrete measures to protect their children from illegal or harmful information posted on the Internet.

Asked whether they have set any rules concerning their children’s use of the Internet, 62.1 percent of the parents said no. Yet more than 70 percent of the parents worry that their children may see obscene images or become victims of Internet fraud. As many as 57.7 percent of the parents said they were not aware of the existence of filtering software to block illegal or harmful information. And only 7.7 said they had actually used it.

The white paper reports that only 31.3 percent of polled shops either recommend or provide filtering software for use with personal computers or cell phones, while 46.9 percent do neither. Another poll shows that more than 80 percent of Internet users want providers to exercise more control over content.

Society must do more to provide Internet users with accurate information on the dangers of the Internet and help them protect themselves. Internet providers and managers of bulletin board systems also must strive to build a safer Web society.