Court recognizes 'right to identity' for first time in online impersonation ruling


In a first, a court has recognized the “right to identity” in a case filed by a man demanding the disclosure of information on someone who allegedly impersonated him online, his lawyer said Friday.

While the Osaka District Court rejected his client’s request that the impersonator’s identity be revealed, it did agree that the plaintiff has the right not to be impersonated online, lawyer Yuichi Nakazawa said.

The Feb. 8 ruling came amid growing concern worldwide about accounts being created on social networking sites by using other people’s identities.

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s demand to have an Internet service provider reveal information identifying the impersonator due to the short time he suffered harm from the event.

The man, described as in his 40s and living in central Japan, is appealing the ruling.

In his decision, Tetsuji Sato, the presiding judge, defined the right to identity as the right to maintain the same personal identity in relation with others. The definition was in line with the plaintiff’s claim.

In the event an impersonator’s statement causes emotional distress by being wrongly attributed to a person, it would constitute “a violation of the right to identity, separate from the right to reputation and privacy,” Sato said.

The court also said the right to identity derives from the constitutionally guaranteed right to life and the pursuit of happiness.

The court said, however, that determining whether the case constitutes a violation of the right to identity requires “caution” because it is “not easy to judge whether an impersonator is liable for damages.”

Nakazawa, the lawyer, said that if an online impersonator’s words hurt a person’s reputation or result in the leaking of personal information, the victim can sue for defamation or violation of privacy.

But often, it is hard to hold the impersonator liable in such cases because it is unclear what actions constitute a violation of reputation or privacy, the lawyer said.

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