The Cabinet approved Tuesday a privacy protection bill designed to set a legal framework to regulate the acquisition and dissemination of personal information for commercial use.

The move comes as rapid advances in telecommunications and other technologies have made it possible for personal data to be used in a broader manner than current legal frameworks cover.

Officials said the government hopes to have the bill passed during the current Diet session and hopes to enforce the law by spring 2003.

The proposed legislation stipulates five basic principles on the collection of personal information, requiring that information-gathering must be conducted fairly and with transparency and that personal information cannot be used other than for the purposes specified.

The law would ban the transfer of personal information to a third party without consent from the individual involved.

Entities that collect personal information about a particular person would, at the request of that individual, be obliged to release the information, correct mistaken data or stop further dissemination of information concerning that person.

Providers of personal information would also be required to set up a system to handle public complaints and make swift responses.

Government agencies would be empowered by the proposed legislation to issue directives over the use of personal information and, if necessary, punish offenders.

Failure to comply with the administrative instructions could result in a prison sentence of up to six months, or a fine of up to 300,000 yen.

The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association has urged the government to exempt the news media from the restrictions, arguing that the guidelines could impede the media from performing its duties and interfere with the public’s right to know.

The draft legislation released Tuesday provides no special consideration for the press with respect to the basic principles of information-gathering.

The news media, however, would be exempted from the requirements on the release of information and other rules that would be imposed on entities that collect personal information for commercial gain.

The same privilege would also apply to the gathering of personal information in connection with academic research as well as religious and political activities.

All these sectors would be urged to make efforts to adopt steps voluntarily to ensure the proper management of data and to deal with complaints from the public, while also making the details of these steps available to the public.

Panel to be set up

The Public Management, Home Affairs and Posts and Telecommunications Ministry will set up a panel of experts to assist in the drawing up of legislation regarding privacy protection that would apply to administrative bodies, ministry chief Toranosuke Katayama said Tuesday.

The body will hold its first meeting in mid-April, in order for it to debate the issue in time for the government to submit relevant law revisions to next year’s ordinary Diet session, ministry officials said.

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