National / Crime & Legal

Police can use wiretapping devices to decrypt and record at prefectural HQs across Japan from June

Kyodo

The National Police Agency revised wiretapping regulations Thursday, enabling investigators from June 1 to listen in on phone conversations while at headquarters of prefectural police departments without the presence of officials from telecommunications carriers.

Under previous rules, investigators had been conducting such operations at telecom carriers’ facilities, but the number of places where it was possible to carry out the task was limited, leading to a long waiting list for police.

The changes to the regulations were made by the NPA in line with a new law, which passed the Diet in 2016 and will go into effect June 1 and expand the scope of crimes that can be investigated using wiretaps.

The legislation is expected to help police more swiftly investigate organized crimes, such as systematic fraud carried out over the phone, but critics argue the police could abuse their new powers and invade personal privacy.

However, they will still need to obtain warrants in order to gain access to the wiretapping devices, which will be kept at NPA outlets and information and communication departments of prefectural police.

Wiretapping instructors — a newly created position to address concerns — will monitor whether investigations are being conducted appropriately, the police said. For each criminal case, an instructor will be assigned from among chief inspectors and higher-ranking officials.

A total of 141 wiretapping devices will have been installed across the country by June 1 and another 47 are due to be added by the end of March next year.

The new device receives encrypted data from carriers before deciphering it. Previously, police investigators could only listen to real-time conversations, but they will now have the ability to record them.

Since the original wiretapping law entered into force in 2000, police have used wiretaps in 145 cases, which led to the arrests of 857 people, according to the Justice Ministry.