The National Police Agency ordered other police forces in 2006 to keep their use of GPS tracking devices in investigations secret and to not mention them in case reports, it has been learned .
The revelation surfaced Wednesday amid a flurry of civil cases where questions were raised over the legality of police using GPS devices to track people’s movements without a court warrant. The nation’s courts have been divided by the issue.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said in a statement that GPS should be used with a warrant, adding that the method tends to “significantly” violate people’s privacy by allowing police employees to easily and cheaply track people for long periods of time without their knowledge.
An agency directive issued to prefectural police forces in June 2006 said suspects should not be informed about the use of GPS devices while being interrogated. It noted that documentation in investigations should not contain anything that “could infer the existence of tracking devices,” and stipulated that local police, when announcing arrests, should not disclose the use of the devices, the NPA officials said.
The directive said police could use GPS devices in cases without a warrant as along as certain conditions were met, such as there being no other way to track a suspect.
Some opposed to the use of GPS devices not sanctioned by a court said the practice was comparable to off-the-book investigations, which could lead to questionable searches and seizures.
Asked for justifications for promoting the practice, the NPA said the action was taken to prevent criminals from guessing the method of investigation being carried out against them and taking countermeasures.
In June 2015, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry revised guidelines to telecommunications firms that let them to give personal GPS information to the police as long as court-issued warrants were obtained.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said in the statement submitted to the agency Wednesday that the government should enact a law that sets conditions for the use of GPS devices in investigations and related procedures.
It also said investigations reliant on GPS lack transparency because the process is handled only by the police from the beginning to the end, leaving it open to abuse. This process thus “excludes checks by third parties such as courts and is obscure,” it said.