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Laws to protect personal information took effect Friday, banning the public and private sectors from using information on a person other than for its intended purpose and from providing it to a third party without permission.

The full enforcement of the five related laws, which aim to ensure the appropriate use of personal information, obliges firms and administrative bodies to prevent personal-data leaks. Critics, however, say the laws fall short because they lack rules to punish information theft committed by individuals.

“In today’s information age, I feel that the full enforcement of the laws is too late,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Thursday.

The personal information covered by the laws includes names, addresses, birth dates, details regarding physical features, personal assets and types of jobs. Visual and audio data, including footage from security cameras, will also be covered.

Under the laws, businesses and organizations that possess the personal data of 5,000 or more individuals are obliged to specify their purpose in using it, not to use it for anything other than the intended purposes, and inform the individual providing the information of the purpose. Media organizations are excluded from the regulations.

If the individual for whom information is being kept seeks disclosure of such data, they will be obliged to comply, and to correct information if requested.

Government ministries can advise or order businesses to halt improper acts under the law. Violators may face up to six months in prison or up to 300,000 yen in fines.

“Because managing personal information is extremely important, it’s necessary to hold meetings with related government ministries and agencies to form a stable system,” Hosoda said.

Companies have already started to make privacy-protection policies public or take appropriate safety measures on their computers in which personal data are stored.

However, there are no rules spelling out punishment for individuals who steal client data. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is considering laws to mandate punishment for company employees who leak information.

The laws are a revised version of a similar set scrapped in the Diet in 2002, following criticism that they restricted media activities.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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