National

T Card customer data handed to police and prosecutors without court approval since 2012, operator says

Kyodo

The operator of T Card, one of the most popular reward cards in Japan, said Monday it started responding to requests from police and prosecutors to provide personal information on card holders without court approval in 2012.

Culture Convenience Club Co., which manages the card and the Tsutaya movie rental and bookshop chain, said it had required court approval for such information requests until 2012, providing the “minimum personal information required only if there was a warrant” at the time.

But as the number of holders continued to increase and personal data obtained through card operations “became more valuable as a social information infrastructure,” the company said it decided to provide such data to the police without court approval.

“We have cooperated with investigative organizations to further contribute to society,” Culture Convenience Club said on its website.

The company made the comments after investigative sources said Sunday that the company has regularly provided personal information on T Card holders to the police and prosecutors at their request without court approval.

Culture Convenience Club does not clearly state in its terms of service the possibility of their personal information being used when it needs to cooperate with investigative authorities.

Because of this, members of the reward system, which started in 2003, will have had no knowledge that their shopping and rental records may have been given to police and prosecutors.

The company said Monday that it will notify card holders of its policy on personal information.

The number of T Card holders is about 67 million, more than half of Japan’s population, and personal information given to investigative authorities included their names, birth dates and phone numbers, as well as shopping and movie rental records.

The police and prosecutors ask for personal data very frequently, and there was a case in which dozens of requests at once were filed with the company in one day, the source said.

Under the program, T Card holders can accumulate reward points by spending money at the company’s chain outlets and a range of other locations, including convenience stores, restaurants, gas stations and hotels.

Masatomo Suzuki, a professor of information law at Niigata University, said the personal beliefs and preferences of consumers can be traced by reward card records, and obtaining such information without court warrants in advance could lead to the infringement of human rights.

Even if Japan’s Criminal Procedure Law permits this sort of approach as a means of investigation, the professor said, it is “inappropriate” as the information can be obtained and used without external checks.

The Tokyo-based company, meanwhile, told Kyodo News, “In response to requests from investigative authorities and as a result of discussions over many years, we have decided to provide necessary information only if disclosures are deemed appropriate based on laws, regulations and guidelines.”

According to the sources, investigators have limited their point of contact to a certain section of the company’s head office.