Staff writerThe United States has asked Japan to conclude a pact as soon as possible on civilian applications, such as car navigation, of the U.S.-developed positioning system that uses military satellites, government officials said Wednesday.The U.S. wants the proposed pact with Japan to serve as a framework for bilateral cooperation in addressing crimes and a variety of other issues that are expected to crop up with an increase in civilian applications of the Global Positioning System, according to the officials, who asked not to be named.Because demand for GPS products is expected to grow sharply on a global scale, the U.S. also wants to standardize such products with Japan, the officials said. The GPS, which was developed by the Pentagon for military purposes during the Cold War, enables the U.S. to determine almost instantly the positions of its forces from signals they transmit to three or four of the 24 American military satellites now in orbit around the Earth.The U.S., which sees the GPS as an important component of a rapidly developing information infrastructure that includes the Internet, has held three rounds of talks with Japan since August 1996 on civilian uses of the system.The third and final round of consultations was held in Tokyo on Dec. 16 and 17, with officials from various government ministries and agencies from both countries. The U.S. has also held similar consultations with the 15-nation European Union.At present, Japanese companies are allowed to use the GPS free of charge and without permission from U.S. authorities for car navigation systems and other civilian purposes, including aviation, shipping and geodetic and other surveys.The GPS can even be linked up with other devices so family members can track elderly relatives. The U.S., Japan and the EU are also separately engaged in the development of systems to improve the accuracy of information obtained through the GPS for civilian purposes. GPS augmentation systems use radio stations on the ground and satellites in stationary orbit.The U.S., for national security reasons, has intentionally reduced the accuracy of signals transmitted by the GPS for civilian purposes, although it announced presidential directives in March 1996 to halt the practice, known as “selective availability,” within 10 years.The U.S. is concerned about the growing exploitation of GPS devices and services by criminal organizations for such crimes as drug trafficking. It is also concerned with the possibility the system could be put to military use by countries hostile to the U.S., such as Iraq, the officials said.In addition to those concerns, the U.S. wants to promote the early standardization of GPS products with Japan for cost benefit reasons since the services they provide are widely expected to become a lucrative business in the future, said one official.The official added, however, that although Japan shares the U.S. view that some arrangements will be necessary in the future to promote bilateral cooperation on issues that could arise from the civilian use of GPS, it is too early to conclude a pact, as the U.S. has been requesting.
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