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The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has made public a program to promote a safe Internet environment. It lists measures the central and local governments and enterprises must carry out by the end of fiscal 2011. Among other things, they must effectively cope with information on the Internet that is harmful to children and intrudes on individual privacy. The private sector’s efforts will be indispensable to ensure the government, in striving to realize the program’s goals, does not violate the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of expression and secrecy of communication.

The 2008 government white paper on information and communications shows that as of the end of 2007, about 88 million people, or 69 percent of the population, were using the Internet. But the Internet has a dark side. For example, in 2007 three men murdered a woman in Nagoya and stole her money after arranging the slaying through an Internet site designed to attract “crime mates.” Two of the men were sentenced to death on March 18.

On April 1, the law to improve the Internet environment for users under the age of 18 went into effect. In principle, Web sites deemed harmful or inappropriate to children will be filtered. But parents can use their judgment to remove the filters.

In preparation for the law’s enforcement, the government program called for promotion of the use of filters to block children’s access via mobile phones and personal computers to Web sites that are deemed harmful or inappropriate. It also called for development of filtering services aimed at different age groups and development of functions parents can use to decide which Web sites or categories of Web sites should be filtered. It also called for examining the effectiveness of Internet service providers’ blocking access to Web sites featuring child pornography.

To help children and parents, the rating of Web sites in terms of harmfulness will become important. (“R18” indicates the Web site is harmful to children under 18.) At the same time, third-party organizations will certify Web sites as harmless. As the law goes into effect, private-sector entities concerned will have greater responsibility in making related efforts.

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