Japan's Communications Interception Act: Unconstitutional Invasion of Privacy or Necessary Tool?

By Gilmer, Lillian Roe | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Japan's Communications Interception Act: Unconstitutional Invasion of Privacy or Necessary Tool?


Gilmer, Lillian Roe, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


ABSTRACT

In August 1999, Japan became the last of the G8 nations to pass legislation to allow law enforcement to wiretap communications. For some, passage of the law was long overdue; for others, its passage marked the beginning of an impermissible government encroachment on civil rights. This Note examines Japan's Communications Interception Act, the forces in Japanese society creating the need for the law, and the reasons why the law is being challenged. Part II examines the policy behind the law, its history, and public reaction to the law. Part III presents the history of organized crime in Japan, and a commentary on its impact in Japan and on the international community. Part IV analyzes the legal challenges to the law. Part V discusses the potential efficacy of the wiretap law in combating Japanese organized crime and the likelihood of abuse in the implementation of the law.

I. INTRODUCTION

Organized crime poses problems not only for the individual countries in which criminal groups reside and operate, but also creates significant risks for the international community. As international borders become more porous, the world is becoming a global community where events in one country no longer have only domestic consequences. As international exchange continues at a rapidly expanding pace, cooperation among foreign governments becomes increasingly important to ensure that domestic problems do not penetrate into the international community. Implicit in this phenomenon is the reality that individual countries must pass legislation, even make significant changes to existing domestic laws, to protect the global community from organized crime.

To better cooperate with the international community in combating organized crime, many facets of the Japanese criminal procedure law are in need of revision. Criminal procedure laws in Japan are ill equipped to deal with the requirements of modern investigations and trials. (1) Outdated provisions that hinder Japanese authorities' ability to adequately fight organized crime in Japan make it difficult for Japan to play an effective role in the global fight against organized crime across borders. (2) However, increasing pressure from the international community on Japan to strengthen its laws to fight organized crime, (3) as well as concern among Japanese citizens, has caused Japan to begin debating the passage of new, more assertive criminal laws. One such step in that direction came in August 1999, when the Japanese Diet passed the Communications Interception Act, (4) a law that allows investigators to wiretap telephone conversations and other communications of suspected criminals for the first time in Japan's history.

Wiretapping is an effective measure for combating organized crime because it enables investigators to target the pivotal figures controlling criminal organizations that have consistently remained beyond the reach of the law in Japan. (5) Investigators in most other industrialized nations have the authority to tap communications for criminal investigations. (6) Japan is the last of the G8 nations to pass such a law. (7) Even though the new wiretap law may benefit Japan's citizens by combating organized crime, it is one of the most controversial laws passed by the Japanese Diet in recent history. (8) In an attempt to delay the final vote, opposition Diet Members dragged out voting on the bill and turned the vote into a twenty-eight hour session. (9) Reaction to the Communications Interception Act has been divided, with some sectors of society claiming that the law is necessary to prevent Japan from becoming a hotbed for international crime, (10) and other groups claiming that the law is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy subject to abuse due to the nature of Japanese criminal investigations and police powers. August 18, 1999, the date of the bill's passage, has even been called "Japan's Day of Shame. …

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Japan's Communications Interception Act: Unconstitutional Invasion of Privacy or Necessary Tool?
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