KYOTO — Privacy and security issues on the Internet raise complex ethical as well as technical problems, and it’s a mistake to assume the Internet is an anonymous form of communication.

These were two assertions made by panelists at Tuesday’s meeting of the Foundation of Information Ethics (FINE) at a Kyoto hotel. FINE is a project team established by researchers at Kyoto, Hiroshima and Chiba universities to study ethical issues related to information technology. About 60 people attended the second day of the two-day workshop.

The issue of secure communications and the matter of free speech vs. regulated use were addressed by several of the speakers. Satoshi Eguchi, a professor at Kyoto University, noted that unauthorized computer access is a growing problem in Japan because of the lack of antihacker laws. “While there are several criminal laws that prohibit the manipulation of data, there are no criminal laws that prohibit unauthorized access to computer systems per se,” Eguchi said.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and the National Police Agency are planning such legislation but it is not yet on the books, he added.

Yasutoshi Ishizaki of the Telecommunications Advancement Organization of Japan spoke on the progress and activities of various Japanese government agencies that are studying information security issues. “The Japanese Constitution is unique because it has an article on the secrecy of communications. Article 21 states that no censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated,” said Ishizaki. “But how to interpret this article is causing a lot of debate among legal scholars.”

A 1997 Justice Ministry report states that, when investigating serious crimes committed by organized crime syndicates, or when investigating a crime where there is evidence of a conspiracy, interception of private communications by law enforcement officials is allowable as long as the requirements of Article 31 on lawful procedure and Article 35 on necessity of warrant are met.

Shun Tsuchiya, a professor at Chiba University, closed the day’s session by attacking the myth, held by many Internet users, that the Internet is an anonymous form of communication. “Where people rent e-mail addresses from an Internet service provider, there are logs that keep track of where people … were on the Internet. These logs can trace the source of the transmission,” Tsuchiya said. “The Internet is no more anonymous than the postal system or the telephone system,” he said.

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