The Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee ignored an opposition boycott and approved a package of controversial bills Friday evening that would allow law enforcement authorities to wiretap private communications during investigations into organized crime.
With the opposition absent, the bills were supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its coalition partner, the Liberal Party, and New Komeito.
Committee members from the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party boycotted the all-day committee session, arguing that more discussions are necessary and claiming that committee chairman Seiken Sugiura scheduled the vote without their consent.
The committee’s approval paves the way for the bills to be passed in plenary session of the Lower House early next week.
The bills are expected to be enacted during the current Diet session because the ruling coalition and New Komeito hold a combined majority in both chambers of the Diet.
The three opposition parties argued that the legislation goes against the Constitution, which guarantees such fundamental human rights as secrecy of communications and protection of privacy. They urged more thorough discussions, including public hearings.
Following the vote, opposition members submitted a motion to the Lower House requesting that Sugiura, an LDP legislator, be removed from his position as committee chair.
“By railroading the bills through the Diet, the LDP, the Liberal Party and New Komeito will leave an indelible stain on the history of the legislature,” said Michihiko Kano, chairman of the DPJ’s Diet Affairs Committee.
The three opposition parties said they may boycott the Lower House committee sessions scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
LDP Secretary General Yoshiro Mori said at a news conference that it was the LDP’s understanding that enough discussion on the issue took place during the committee sessions.
The revised bills allow law enforcement authorities to wiretap during investigations into four types of crimes — those involving drugs, guns, acts of murder involving several people, and mass smuggling of illegal immigrants into Japan.
According to the revised bills, police officials with the rank of superintendent or above, as well as public prosecutors, can ask district courts to issue warrants for monitoring communications made by telephone, e-mail and fax.
“Monitoring of communications will only be done during criminal investigations,” said Eita Yashiro, a committee member from the LDP, after the vote. “I will declare that this has nothing to do with ordinary citizens.”
Only district court judges will be authorized to issue wiretapping warrants in the revised bills. In the bills originally proposed by the government, family court judges also had that authority.
Unlike placing remote listening devices, the operations covered by the bills permit officials to go into public telecommunications firms to tap the desired lines. No trespassing onto private properties would be required to monitor private communications.
The bills require a representative of the communications network being accessed to be present when investigators are engaged in such monitoring to check if the procedures are proper.
However, the third party will not be allowed to monitor the contents of the communications, according to the bills.
The government submitted the bills to the Diet in March 1998, but deliberations on them did not begin until this session.