While China’s online censorship and surveillance gets plenty of coverage, proposals in neighbouring Japan have attracted less attention. But thanks to perhaps the most well-known online freedom advocate, Edward Snowden, they are now attracting more interest.
“A new wave of mass surveillance in Japan”
Speaking to Kyodo News, Snowden was asked about Japan’s Anti-Conspiracy Bill, a controversial proposed law which many say will undermine civil liberties in the country. The bill proposals criminalising the planning and preparatory activities of 277 serious crimes. According to Snowden, the powers included in the bill amount to “the beginning of a new wave of mass surveillance in Japan.”
He is not the first person to criticise the proposals. Japan Today has reported that Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, received a letter in mid-May from Joseph Cannataci, the UNs special rapporteur on the right to privacy. He wrote that the bill could place “undue restrictions on privacy and freedom of expression due to its potentially broad application”.
Snowden agreed and also highlighted a report by US online news site the Interceptor, from earlier this year which showed that the US had already shared XKEYSCORE with Japan. XKEYSCORE is the USA’s bulk online data collection tool which Snowden himself exposed to the world in 2013.The new law, when combined with XKEYSCORE offers vast snooping powers to the Japanese authorities.
Snowden also questioned the stated intention of the new law, which is to crack down on terrorism and organised crime ahead of the Olympic Games which will be held in Tokyo in 2020. “The only real understandable answer [to why the Japanese are so keen to pass the bill)… is that this is a bill that authorizes the use of surveillance in new ways because now everyone can be a criminal,” he said.
No safeguards or supporting evidence for the new powers
Snowden went on to criticise the new bill’s lack of safeguards and highlights the fact that despite its popularity, mass surveillance simply doesn’t work. In 2014, the US privacy watchdog concluded that their bulk surveillance programme was “of minimal value” and recommended it to be shut down.
He drew attention to the situation in the UK, which last passed a similar law called the Investigatory Powers Act. This year, there have been three terrorist attacks in the UK, all carried out by terrorists already known to British intelligence agencies, but who were not identified as an imminent threat.
It is quite likely this is because intelligence agencies now have more data than they can handle and finding useful information is much harder.
Edward Snowden obviously has his own agenda, but the criticisms he raises are valid one. Modern-day Japan is a proud and open democracy and stands counter to it’s larger authoritarian neighbour in China. It would be to the detriment of Japan and its people for the country to head down the same path as their Communist cousins.