• Kyodo

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In a rare ruling, a court has ordered mobile service provider SoftBank Corp. to disclose the phone number of an individual who posted defamatory comments online about a real estate company in Tokyo, a lawyer said Thursday.

The Tokyo District Court ordered the carrier last month to disclose the number together with the person’s name, home address and email address so that the company can identify the individual and seek damages.

“It is believed to be the first court ruling ordering the disclosure of a mobile phone number,” said Yuichi Nakazawa, the lawyer of the plaintiff. “We can expect that it may become easier to seek damages from an individual who has posted defamatory online comments.”

A communications ministry ordinance states that only an individual’s name, home address and email address can be disclosed, but phone numbers cannot due to privacy concerns.

The plaintiff had sought disclosure of the mobile phone number on the grounds that it should be regarded as a short message service address.

On Dec. 11, presiding Judge Yoshitaka Ichihara said a phone number used to exchange text messages was equivalent to an email address.

“It is an effective means to identify a sender of information and can be used as a way to contact the individual to seek damages,” the judge said.

The court also ordered the disclosure as the posted comments including one stating that “the top two (of the company) are fat and flabby.”

SoftBank said it has appealed the ruling as it believes a mobile phone number used for SMS is not subject to disclosure.

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