U.N. privacy expert challenges Japan’s defense of conspiracy law

Kyodo

The U.N. special rapporteur on the right to privacy has challenged the government’s defense of the contentious law Japan enacted last June to criminalize the planning of serious crimes.

In a written reply to Kyodo News, Joseph Cannataci said the “shortcomings” of the government’s arguments regarding his concerns about the respect of the right to privacy under the new state-sponsored law “would presumably be obvious to the most casual of observers.”

Cannataci warned in a letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in May that the conspiracy law could lead to undue restrictions on privacy due to its potentially broad application and a lack of privacy safeguards.

Under the law, members of “terrorist groups or other organized crime groups” can be pre-emptively punished for carrying out specific actions in preparation for 277 different crimes. Critics say the law opens the door to excessive state surveillance and the arbitrary punishment of civic groups and labor unions.

The Abe administration has publicly brushed off Cannataci’s concerns, including in a letter sent to him in August that said, “the government of Japan has made every effort to sincerely respond to the concerns and questions raised by the special rapporteur.”

In his communication with Kyodo News, Cannataci said the government’s letter “presents no new reasoning, facts or explanations but merely reproduces arguments already presented within the Japanese parliament.”

“It is crystal clear that the letter is a vehicle for polite diplomacy but also that it avoids the substance and realities of most of the concerns expressed in my letter to the prime minister of Japan dated 18th May,” he added.

“The Japanese government has yet to indicate as to where, in Japanese law, one may find the privacy safeguards indicated in my letter,” Cannataci said.

The Abe administration framed the law as an essential tool for thwarting terrorist attacks as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, and to allow Japan to ratify the 2000 U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

The law represents a fundamental shift in Japan’s penal code, which previously applied penalties only after crimes were actually committed.

Cannataci said he will be seeking in-depth discussion with the government as a next step but has decided to wait for the results of Sunday’s election. He said he would “await the outcome of the elections and afterwards take up the subject directly with the newly constituted Japanese government whoever the new prime minister may be.”