The Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party have worked out a bill aimed at shielding children from harmful Web sites. The Education Resuscitation Council had called for restricting the use of mobile phones by schoolchildren to direct calls and GPS notification (so that parents can locate them).

Under the bill, the government would not involve itself in deciding which Internet information is harmful. It must refrain from making any moves that would restrict the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. Private-sector efforts to educate people on lurking Internet dangers will be vital.

According to a Cabinet Office survey in March 2007, 31.3 percent of elementary school students and 57.6 percent of middle school students use mobile phones, and 27 percent and 56.3 percent, respectively, use the Internet.

The National Police Agency says that 848 elementary, middle and high school students became victims of crimes related to online dating sites in 2007, and that more than 90 percent of them accessed such sites through mobile phones.

In the face of criticism from opposition parties, the LDP dropped an earlier proposal to require private-sector organizations that judge what Internet contents are harmful to register with the government. The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association, mobile phone and Internet firms also opposed any move that would appear to foster government intervention.

The bill would require mobile phone companies and Internet providers to offer filtering services that block access to harmful Web sites on mobile phones and personal computers used by children under 18. Parents may reject such services. The government will provide financial support to private organizations that develop or promote the use of filtering software.

The Internet contains both useful and harmful information. It is crucial that children as well as parents hone their ability to differentiate between the two.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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