Freedom on the Net 2022 - Japan

/ 100
Obstacles to Access 22 / 25
Limits on Content 29 / 35
Violations of User Rights 26 / 40
76 / 100 Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.


Internet freedom remained robust in Japan during the coverage period. There are few obstacles to internet access, no blocks on websites, and the legal framework provides strong protections for various forms of expression. Concerns over government surveillance of electronic communications persist, however, and women and individuals belonging to certain minority groups continue to face disproportionate levels of online harassment.

Japan is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has governed almost continuously since 1955, with stints in opposition in the early 1990s and between 2009 and 2012. Political rights and civil liberties are generally well respected. Outstanding challenges include ethnic and gender-based discrimination and claims of improperly close relations between government and the business sector.

Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • Suspicions that the ruling LDP has been behind efforts to manipulate online opinion have continued. After two opposition lawmakers filed a lawsuit in October 2021 demanding internet providers disclose the operator of popular anonymous Twitter account, “Dappi,” which had been posting criticism of the opposition and praise for LDP since 2019, the account was found to belong to a web production company with close ties to the LDP (see B5).
  • Japanese women continued to use digital tools to mobilize around online gender-based harassment. In October 2021, a group of feminist activists announced the launch of the website and broader movement “Online Safety for Sisters” to combat isolation for those facing such abuse, eliminate hate speech online, and encourage legislation requiring social media companies to better address discrimination (see B8).
  • In April 2022, operations began for a Cyber Police Bureau and a Cyber Special Investigation Unit within the National Police Agency. The bodies, which are meant to tackle cybercrime, are also empowered to conduct criminal investigations; civil society groups have raised concerns around their potential to monitor and surveil individuals online, which could threaten online free expression (see C5).
  • In March 2022, the government passed a cabinet decision to revise the Telecommunications Business Law with new regulations to protect users’ information and improve transparency around its handling. The law’s amendment was enacted in June 2022, after the coverage period. Amendments to the Act on the Protection of Personal Information, which expanded the scope of personal data, also went into effect in April 2022 (see C6).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 6 / 6

Due in part to strong infrastructure, internet access is widely available to users in Japan. The Inclusive Internet Index 2022 report ranks Japan 20th out of 120 countries surveyed in terms of internet availability, determined by quality and breadth of available infrastructure.1 As of 2022, the internet penetration rate for households stood at 94 percent.2

Providers continue to develop telecommunications infrastructure, in part to alleviate mobile network congestion. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) DoCoMo, KDDI, SoftBank, and Rakuten Mobile (in partnership with electronics firm NEC) all launched commercial fifth-generation (5G) services in 2020.3

Some private companies offer free internet access in restaurants, coffee shops, and train stations; registration requires an email address.4 Wi-Fi access has been tied to mobile subscriptions in the past, which presents a barrier for users without contracts.5

Connectivity is occasionally restricted accidentally or due to network congestion and server outages, though severe outages have become less common in recent years.6 In October 2021, nearly 13 million NTT DoCoMo users experienced disruptions to voice or data services—including around one million people who were briefly unable to access both voice and data services—due to a system failure. It took approximately 30 hours for the disruption to be fully resolved.7 The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications confirmed that the incident constituted a “serious accident” under the Telecommunications Business Law and issued an administrative guidance the following month that called on the provider to take preventative measures in the future, improve communications with users, and share lessons learned with peers.8

Infrastructure was also severely damaged in 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami triggered the destruction of a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Many people lost service for days or weeks, and mobile phone usage dropped by almost half in the affected areas.9

A2 0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 3 / 3

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because there are no significant digital divides and access to the internet is affordable.

Access to the internet remains relatively equal across different segments of the population. Increasing smartphone use has made the mobile market more competitive and resulted in improved pricing options, although the cost of service can otherwise be quite high.

According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2022 report, Japan ranks 18th out of 100 countries surveyed for affordability, defined by cost of access relative to income and the level of competition in the internet market, and 9th for price.10 Government statistics show that the average cost of internet access for households with two or more people across Japan in 2020 was ¥3,601 ($32) compared with ¥3,753 ($33) in 2017.11 Regional cost disparities exist; service was more expensive in Japan’s major cities in 2020, with customers paying an average of ¥3,835 ($34) per month. Customers in small cities, towns, and villages paid an average monthly price of nearly ¥3,024 ($27). Connectivity for households in the heavily populated Kantō region, which includes Tokyo, costs nearly ¥1,300 ($11) more per month than in the least expensive region, Tohokuin in the northeast.12 Many providers bundle digital media subscriptions, including cable television, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services, and email, pushing costs higher.

A3 0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 6 / 6

Japan’s telecommunications infrastructure is advanced, and there have been no reports of the government deliberately disconnecting telecommunications service. There is full competition in the ownership of gateways to the international internet.13 Historically, Japan’s internet connections were forged through cooperation among government agencies (including then government-owned NTT), universities, and national research institutions.14

A4 0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 5 / 6

While users have a choice of providers for internet services, certain companies dominate the market.

Japan has three major mobile operators—NTT Docomo, which holds 36.6 percent of the mobile market share; au, a KDDI brand, which holds 27.1 percent of the mobile market share; and SoftBank, which holds 20.9 of the mobile market share, all as of December 2021.15 E-commerce company Rakuten, which is seeking to become Japan’s fourth major mobile service provider, launched its mobile service in 2020, but held only 2.2 percent of the mobile market as of December 2021.16

The NTT group also remains dominant in the fixed broadband market, holding 39.3 percent of the market share, while KDDI group and SoftBank hold 9.6 and 11.9 percent, respectively. Hundreds of other providers offer services, however, including fiber-optic connections and fixed-line or wireless broadband access.17

In January 2021, the three major mobile phone companies launched new low-cost plans, after decades of pressure from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.18 Rakuten, in an effort to gain a competitive edge, launched cheaper plans in April 2021 compared to those offered by the other three mobile service providers. However, some critics have alleged that the ongoing price war has prevented smaller companies from entering the market.19 No major foreign operators have successfully penetrated the telecommunications market independently.

NTT, formerly a state monopoly, was privatized in 1985 and reorganized in 1999 under a law promoting functional separation between the company’s mobile, fixed-line telephone, and internet services (see A5).20 Asymmetric regulation, which creates stricter rules for providers with a higher market share, has helped diversify the industry.21

A5 0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 2 / 4

The telecommunications, internet, and broadcast sectors are regulated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) rather than an independent commission. Some self-regulatory bodies also manage content and other issues.

Observers argue that the industry has generally improved since the MIC was established in 2001, which resulted from the merger of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and the government’s Management and Coordination Agency.22

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) supported by the relevant companies in these three sectors perform a self-regulatory function. They include television’s Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization and the Internet Content Safety Association, which manages the blocking of child sexual abuse images online.23 Observers have accused MIC officials and the prime minister’s office of trying to restrict or influence content under the broadcast law.24

There are substantial concerns that MIC officials are increasingly influenced by business executives. After the MIC supported NTT’s December 2020 acquisition of NTT Docomo—despite the acquisition drawing criticism from competitors and others as contrary to the intent of the 1999 NTT Law—25 weekly news magazine Shukan Bunshun reported that NTT’s president and other executives had repeatedly treated MIC officials, including Deputy Director General Yasuhiko Taniwaki, to lavish dinners (see A4).26 Taniwaki, who had been instrumental in the government’s policies on mobile phone prices, was quickly transferred to another position.27

In March 2021, the government cabinet approved Shunichi Tokura, the former chairman of the Japan Music Rights Association (JASRAC), as Commissioner for Cultural Affairs. The Agency for Cultural Affairs has jurisdiction over copyright law and provides guidance and supervision to copyright management organizations, including JASRAC. Due to Tokura’s previous position and his lobbying efforts on behalf of JASRAC, his appointment sparked concerns about his ability to balance protecting the rights of artists and creators while also ensuring the freedom of individuals who use copyrighted works.28

B Limits on Content

B1 0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 6 / 6

Authorities typically do not order service providers to block or filter content in Japan.

In July 2020, lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party urged the government to restrict the use of TikTok over concerns that Chinese officials might be able to access sensitive user data via the app, though such steps were never taken.29

In April 2018, the government asked internet service providers (ISPs) to block manga piracy sites, including Mangamura, AniTube!, and MioMio, prompting a public debate that highlighted tensions between the protection of intellectual property on one hand and users’ rights to private communications and the constitutional ban on censorship on the other (see B3).30 While a 2020 revision of an antipiracy law criminalized illegally downloading manga, magazines, and academic texts, it did not expand the government’s ability to block websites (see C2).31

B2 0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 3 / 4

Courts have continued to consider lawsuits from individuals requesting that search engines delink inaccurate or irrelevant material about them from public results, called “right to be forgotten” removals, but the Supreme Court has laid down important guidance that set limits on such actions.32 Some private companies occasionally accept the government’s requests to remove content.

In recent years, content removals have focused on hate speech and illegal content, including child sexual abuse images and intimate images shared without the subject’s consent. The Tokyo-based Safer Internet Association (SIA) reported that it was asked to manage over 3,117 cases of nonconsensual sharing of intimate images in 2020 and secured the deletion of the content in 81 percent of those cases.33

Previously, inflammatory, nationalist speech targeting Japanese residents of Korean origin and other minority groups was also subject to removal. In 2017, the Japanese video website Niconico took down two videos posted from an internet protocol (IP) address in Osaka after municipal officials flagged them for violating a local ordinance regulating hate speech.34

Social media platforms occasionally restrict content at the government’s request. Between July and December 2021, Facebook restricted access to 20 items in Japan; 13 in response to court orders and seven in response to private reports of harassment and defamation.35 During the same period, Twitter received 23,555 requests for content removal and complied with 43.6 percent of those requests.36

Service providers protect themselves from civil liability by adhering to voluntary guidelines on takedown requests.37 The 2001 Provider Liability Limitation Act directed ISPs to establish a self-regulatory framework to govern takedown requests involving illegal or objectionable content, defamation, privacy violations, and copyright infringement.38 Under guidelines produced by industry associates in 2002,39 individuals can request a service provider remove a post which infringes directly on their personal rights or share the information of the individual who posted the content. The provider is required to get permission from the poster before sharing their information. If the poster refuses permission, the service provider is authorized to assess the complaint and act on it if it is deemed legitimate, potentially enabling an ISP to provide identifying information—such as their name or IP address—without the poster’s consent.

B3 0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 3 / 4

While the government is relatively transparent in its censorship decisions, previous blocking and efforts to give authorities more censorship power have raised concerns.

For ISPs to block particular websites, they must monitor their customers’ online activity to determine whether they are accessing the sites in question, which could violate the constitutional right to secrecy of communications.40 Following the government’s effort to block manga piracy sites in early 2018, observers expressed concern that the move conflicted with the Telecommunications Business Act and the constitutional ban on censorship.41 Shortly after NTT announced that it would comply with the government’s request, a customer sued the company on the grounds that the blocking violated privacy guarantees.42

In the wake of the blocking attempts, the government indicated that it would introduce new legislation to expand its authority to formally order blocking, which current legislation allows only for sites found to host child sexual abuse images.43 In June 2018, a panel convened by the government started to review potential legislation targeting websites that host pirated content, but later suspended its efforts to draft legislation after failing to reach consensus on whether the blocking would violate the constitutional right to secrecy of communications.44

ISPs voluntarily filter child sexual abuse images, and many offer parents the option to filter certain other content to protect young internet users.45 Depictions of genitalia are pixelated to obscure them for internet users based on a common—though poorly articulated—interpretation of Article 175 of the penal code, which governs obscenity.46 Otherwise, individuals or police ask ISPs to administratively delete contested or illegal content. A 2014 law addressed the issue of content removal and intimate images shared without consent (see B2 and C2). Under that law, providers must comply with takedown requests within two days.47

“Right to be forgotten” cases increased around the same time as a landmark 2014 decision on the topic by the Court of Justice of the European Union. In 2017, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled on an individual’s request for Google to remove search results documenting a crime he committed over five years earlier, setting a precedent that individuals could only demand that search results be delisted if privacy protection concerns clearly outweighed the public’s interest in the information.48 In June 2020, the Tokyo High Court reversed a Tokyo District Court ruling that Twitter remove posts that detailed the plaintiff’s arrest records.49 Japan’s Supreme Court overturned the ruling in June 2022, ordering Twitter to delete the tweet.50

Courts have also ordered content to be removed in defamation cases. In July 2021, the Tokyo District Court ordered Professor Shohei Osawa pay ¥330,000 ($2,900) in damages to journalist Shiori Ito, who was also a major figure in the country’s #MeToo movement, and delete a defamatory post that alleged that Ito was operating under a false identity.51

The Internet Hotline Center (IHC), operated through the SIA as part of a contract with the National Police Agency (NPA), cooperates with ISPs to solicit reports of illegal or harmful content from the public.52 The IHC’s website offers online forms for reporting objectionable content, such as material that features obscene images, child sexual abuse images, illegal drugs, or prostitution, as well as a referencing system that allows users to look up the status of submitted reports. In 2016, the IHC began providing reports to “Safe-line,” a website maintained by the SIA.53 Once the SIA receives a report, it will either file a police report or make a request for removal to the relevant domestic or overseas provider.54

B4 0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 3 / 4

Japanese residents exercise some self-censorship online, often on historical and social issues. The society at large prefers “harmony,” and people avoid criticizing the role of Japan’s emperor, especially when connected with historical events like World War II.

In a 2017 report, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression noted that there were “significant worrying signals” regarding self-censorship among journalists on issues such as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.55 There is also a degree of self-censorship concerning human rights problems, in some cases linked to instances of apparent political pressure.56

B5 0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2 / 4

Progovernment online commentators are prevalent across Japan.

The LDP Net Supporters Club (J-NSC) essentially serves as an online public relations effort for the LDP, though its rules make clear that members are responsible for their own social media posts. Such posts have attacked critics of the LDP government and have occasionally initiated negative campaigns against opposition lawmakers.57 Suspicions that the LDP has been behind efforts to manipulate online opinion continued into the coverage period. After two opposition lawmakers filed a lawsuit in October 2021 demanding internet providers disclose the operator of “Dappi,” an anonymous Twitter account with over 170,000 followers that had been posting criticism of the opposition and praise for the ruling party since 2019, the account was found to belong to a web production company with close ties to the LDP.58 It remains unclear whether the LDP is actually involved.

Political bots have also permeated the Japanese internet. Ahead of the Okinawa gubernatorial election in September 2018, misinformation again spread online.59 To help limit its effectiveness, two local daily newspapers instituted fact-checking processes.

There are some known cases of the government or powerful groups proactively manipulating online news or other content. In one significant instance, government officials and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) withheld data about pollution after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Some observers said that the MIC’s request that four industry associations monitor false or unsubstantiated content circulating about the disaster online was an attempt to control public discourse, though deletions were not widespread. In 2016, government officials reportedly pressured TEPCO not to use the term “meltdown” at a news conference shortly after the disaster.60 In May 2019, it was revealed that the national government and Fukushima Prefecture paid over ¥24 billion ($212 million) to an advertising agency to manage public relations, including in online outlets, after the disaster.61

B6 0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 2 / 3

Independent online media and citizen media outlets have faced obstacles in their work, particularly due to the prevalence of the kisha club, or formal press association, system. Kisha clubs include reporters covering institutions such as government ministries or major corporations but are only open to traditional media companies.62 In addition, some online news outlets struggle to sustain themselves financially.

Kisha clubs and an advertising market that favors established players may be preventing digital media from gaining a stronger foothold in the market. Kisha clubs provide essential access to officials in Japan, but they have been accused of denying such access to young journalists and new media outlets; the system may also limit some reporters’ access to certain locations, such as areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima disaster.63 In April 2021, Reporters Without Borders criticized the kisha club system in their annual World Press Freedom Index.64

B7 0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 4 / 4

Japan has a diverse online landscape. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and international blog-hosting services are freely available, as are popular local platforms like Niconicothe video-sharing site, and LINE, a chat application that was launched in Japan in 2011.

Blogs have a significant impact on public opinion, and several independent journalists are becoming influential through personal or commercial websites and social media accounts. However, most online media remain small and community based.65 YouTubers and Instagram personalities have also become increasingly influential in recent years.

B8 0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 6 / 6

Digital activism in Japan has been highly effective at both the local and the national level, and online mobilization tools are freely available.

For instance, Japanese users mobilized widely online around the 2021 Summer Olympics, which were originally planned for 2020 and were held in Tokyo. Activism on Twitter in the months leading up to the games contributed to the resignation or dismissal of three event officials, including the president of the organizing committee, as the public expressed discontent via trending hashtags.66 Calls to cancel the event, though ultimately unsuccessful, also proliferated online. In May 2021, an online petition with over 350,000 signatures was submitted to local organizers requesting that the games be cancelled due to concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic.67

Japanese individuals, particularly women, have used the internet to protest gender-based discrimination and bring about tangible change. In October 2021, in response to the prolific gender-based harassment and slander many women users face online, a group of feminist activists announced the launch of the website and broader movement “Online Safety for Sisters.” The group is working to combat isolation in those facing such abuse, eliminate hate speech online, and encourage legislation requiring social media companies to better address discrimination. Among other initiatives, they collect survey responses on online harassment and are planning to launch a signature drive.68

Previously, in 2019 and early 2020, online organizing around the #KuToo movement—which opposed a requirement that women wear high heels in the workplace—led some institutions, including banks and airlines, to change or abolish their dress codes to align more closely with mobilizers’ preferences.69

C Violations of User Rights

C1 0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 5 / 6

Article 21 of Japan’s constitution prohibits censorship and protects freedom of “speech, press, and all other forms of expression,” as well as the “secrecy of any means of communication.”70 These rights are generally upheld in practice, though some social and legal constraints exist, and several laws have negative implications for free speech.

The Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets came into force in 2014, despite objections from the opposition in government, civil society, and protesters. The law gives a range of officials the discretion to indefinitely restrict public information pertaining to national security.71 Overseen by government officials rather than an independent body, it offers no protection for whistleblowers who reveal wrongdoing.72

A 2016 law outlined measures that authorities could take to educate the public about hate speech, while also combating such speech when directed against people of overseas origin and their descendants.73 The law’s authors struggled to balance restrictions on racial and ethnic slurs with freedom of expression guarantees in the constitution.74 The law did not actually ban or penalize hate speech, leading some critics to argue that it would be ineffective.75 In 2017, several municipalities asked for a clearer definition of hate speech under the law.76 Since the law’s introduction, many cities have subsequently moved to legislate against hate speech (see C2).

C2 0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2 / 4

Several laws regulate online activity, including by imposing civil and criminal liability.

Under the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, intentional leaks of state secrets can draw penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, while unintentional leaks can be punished with up to 2 years. In addition, individuals who knowingly receive secrets from an administrative organ risk up to five years’ imprisonment if the disclosures are found to be intentional, and one year for disclosures made through negligence.77

In June 2022, after the coverage period, the parliament passed legislation making “online insults” punishable with up to one year of imprisonment or a fine of ¥300,000 ($2,700).78 Online insults were formerly punishable with less than 30 days imprisonment and a fine of ¥10,000 ($88). Critics have noted the lack of a clear definition of what constitutes “insult” in the law, which is defined in the penal code as speech that publicly demeans an individual’s social standing without reference to a specific action or fact. Due to concerns about the law’s potential impact on free expression, it is set to be re-examined in three years.79

Other laws prescribe potentially disproportionate penalties for online activity. A 2012 legal revision targeting copyright violators applies to any internet users who download content they know has been illegally copied, as opposed to just those engaged in piracy for commercial gain.80 The 2012 version subject uploaders to 12 years’ imprisonment or fines of up to ¥2 million ($18,000) for downloading a single pirated file.81

In January 2021, a revision of the Copyright Act went into effect that made it illegal to download manga, magazines, and academic publications, as well as music and videos depicting content from such publications, without the copyright holder’s permission. Those who violate the revised law face up to two years’ imprisonment, a ¥2 million ($18,000) fine, or both. The bill allows users to download image-based material or certain forms of academic content that is meant for private use.82 The law passed in June 2020 in part as a response to copyright discussions sparked by the attempted blocking of manga piracy sites in early 2018 (see B1).83

A 2013 revision of the Public Offices Election Act lifted long-standing restrictions on the use of the internet for election campaigns. There are still limits on paid online advertising and campaign emails, which can only be sent directly by a party or candidate—not a supporter—in a measure designed to prevent fraud.84 While these provisions were contested, and revisions are still planned,85 politicians who violate the existing restrictions face a potential fine of ¥300,000 ($2,700) or one year in prison; imprisonment would strip perpetrators of their right to vote or run for office. Voters found to have improperly solicited support for a candidate via email could be fined ¥500,000 ($4,400) or imprisoned for two years.86

Article 175 of the penal code bans the sale or distribution of “obscene” material, and while the relevant provisions date back more than century, they are considered to apply online.87 The article does not define what constitutes obscenity, leading to concerns that it could be invoked against artistic expression or used to curtail the rights of LGBT+ people.88

A 2011 law criminalized the creation or distribution of computer viruses without a legitimate reason.89 Individuals can be sentenced to up to three years in prison or fines of up to ¥500,000 ($4,400). Many experts have indicated their concern about ambiguous components of the law that could be abused.

Other laws regulate online activity but are not known to have resulted in abuse or disproportionate penalties. Heightened awareness of nonconsensual sharing of intimate images and online harassment culminated in the adoption of a law criminalizing such activity in 2014. Offenders can face prison sentences of up to three years or fines as large as ¥500,000 ($4,400), and third-party distribution can draw up to a year’s imprisonment and a fine of ¥300,000 ($2,700).90 Japan’s antistalking law, originally enacted in 2000, was revised in 2013 to address email harassment, and further revised in 2016 to penalize repeated blog posts or messages on social networking services.91

Some municipal governments have also introduced local ordinances on hate speech. Kawasaki City created a nondiscrimination ordinance in 2019 that includes criminal penalties for hate speech in public spaces and stipulations that the city would take measures to prevent the spread of hate on the internet. 92 Sagamihara City also planned to enact a criminal ordinance that would target hate speech against members of specific ethnic or racial groups in 2021.93 No ordinance was proposed or passed as of the end of the coverage period.

C3 0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 5 / 6

No citizens faced politically motivated arrest or prosecution for their online activity during the coverage period.

There are periodic reports of arrests under the copyright law, which carries possible prison terms for both uploading and downloading content without the permission of the copyright owner (see C2). In June 2021, the Fukuoka District Court sentenced Romi Hoshino to three years in prison and a fine of ¥10 million ($88,000) for allegedly operating the manga piracy website, Mangamura (see B1). The judge also ordered the confiscation of approximately ¥62 million ($548,000) that Hoshino had hidden in overseas bank accounts. Three men and three women, who acted as instructors and executors alongside Hoshino, were also convicted of violating the Copyright Act.94

Journalists who report on sensitive topics also face government and authorities’ pressure in the form of defamation lawsuits. In June 2020, the founder of news site Independent Web JournalYasumi Iwakami, had his appeal dismissed regarding a fine he was required to pay for allegedly defaming former Osaka prefectural governor, Toru Hashimoto. Iwakami was sentenced to pay ¥330,000 ($2,900) in September 2019 after he retweeted a 2017 post that suggested Hashimoto was responsible for the suicide of one of his subordinates.95 In February 2022, Hashimoto also filed a lawsuit against politician Akiko Oishi demanding ¥3 million ($27,000) in damages for alleged defamation due to a media interview after her election to the House of Representatives in which Oishi mentioned problems during Hashimoto's Osaka administration.96

Several users have been arrested and charged under a 2011 law criminalizing the creation and use of computer viruses without a legitimate reason (see C2). However, in January 2022, the Supreme Court overruled the indictment of Seiya Moroi, one of 16 website operators arrested in 2018 for allegedly using a service called Coinhive to mine cryptocurrencies via visitors’ computers without their consent.97 The court found that the program was “socially acceptable and not fraudulent,” and reversed a ¥100,000 ($900) fine issued to the defendant by the Tokyo High Court in February 2020. Most of those arrested had paid the fines issued to them in prior rulings.98

C4 0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3 / 4

Individuals can generally use the internet anonymously in Japan. However, some digital activities require separate registration. Major mobile service providers require customers to present identification documents to subscribe. Internet café users are required to produce formal identification documents such as a driver’s license, and to register their name and address. Police can request these details, along with usage logs, if they detect illegal online activity.

The Act on Prevention of Improper Use of Mobile Phones (2005) requires mobile voice communication carriers to verify the identity of subscribers when a contract was terminated or transferred to prevent a situation in which cell phone subscribers cannot be identified. In June 2008, the law was amended to prohibit the transfer of SIM cards without permission and to require rental companies to verify the identity of customers.99

There are no explicit restrictions on encryption. Under the criminal procedure code, however, investigators can order a person to decrypt an encrypted electronic record.100

Increased concerns over harassment, intimidation, and slander during previous coverage periods led lawmakers to enact an amendment to the Provider Liability Limitation Act in April 2021 facilitating the identification of users who allegedly slander people on the internet. The law, scheduled to take effect by the end of 2022, enables individuals to request the court to disclose information about a sender who posted defamatory content. The court has up to six months to decide whether to order a content provider (which operates the server in question) to disclose the sender’s information and can also order access providers (an internet service or connection provider) to retain sender’s information during the proceedings. There are concerns that disclosure requests will be misused to suppress the transmission of information.101

C5 0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2 / 6

Japan’s Supreme Court protects privacy in part through its interpretation of Article 13 of the constitution, which provides for the right to life and liberty.102 The constitutional right to secrecy of communications is also protected under telecommunications laws.103 However, recent developments in Japan have raised serious concerns about increased surveillance, including reports of opaque surveillance operations and the approval of a conspiracy law that may allow police to seek wiretap warrants in a wider range of circumstances.

A bill to amend the Police Act was passed by the House of Representatives’ Cabinet Committee in March 2022. The law would establish a Cyber Police Bureau and a Cyber Special Investigation Unit within the National Police Agency, which began operating the following month.104 The bodies will, in part, focus on cyberattacks, but they will also be empowered to conduct criminal investigations.105 Civil society actors have voiced concern over the broad authority that the reorganization grants the National Police Agency to monitor and surveil online users and the threat it poses to online free expression.106

In November 2018, the amended Telecommunications Business Act and the Act on the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) came into effect.107 The changes allowed the NICT and the MIC to carry out the NOTICE program, authorizing them to attempt to access domestic internet-enabled devices for up to five years in an effort to strengthen Japanese residents’ cybersecurity (see C8).108 With seemingly no judicial oversight and potential access to millions of users’ personal devices, NOTICE has raised serious privacy concerns.109 In May 2022, the NICT released a summary of NOTICE-related activities, disclosing that it attempted to access 112 million IP addresses, and that the NOTICE alert had detected a cumulative 39,226 targets and notified service providers since April 2019.110

The conspiracy law passed in 2017 raised the possibility of more government surveillance. It criminalized “planning” to commit a series of newly designated “serious crimes” that could supposedly fund terrorism, including copyright violations, potentially making more suspects subject to wiretaps. The UN’s special rapporteur for privacy noted ahead of the law’s passage that “it is logical to assume that those charged would have had to be subjected to a considerable level of surveillance beforehand.”111

Under a wiretap law enacted in 2000, law enforcement agents may seek a court order to conduct electronic surveillance in criminal investigations involving drugs, firearms, human trafficking, or organized murders, in an exception to articles of other laws that explicitly forbid wiretapping.112 In 2016, the law was expanded to include fraud, theft, and child sexual abuse images.113 The law obliges agents to notify targets of wiretaps after investigations are concluded and inform Parliament, known as the Diet, of the number they implement annually. Critics say the law does not prevent the systematic storage of intercepted communications or protect innocent parties.114 In February 2022, the Ministry of Justice announced that 16,495 mobile phone calls were tapped in 2021, of which 2,320 were crime related, leading to 88 arrests.115

Some Japanese security agencies may have equipment enabling the blanket collection and monitoring of communications data, though it is unclear how such technology has been used, what laws govern its employment, and what, if any, safeguards there are. The 2014 state secrets law, which covers national security issues, may make surveillance abuses harder to document (see C1 and C2).

In May 2018, public broadcaster NHK and the Intercept reported on the activities of the Directorate for Signals Intelligence (DFS), a spy agency that monitors and analyzes electronic communications.116 The reporting claimed that the government deployed a clandestine online surveillance program, dubbed MALLARD, to observe communications passing between satellites.117 The information collected is reportedly stored for around two months, during which it is analyzed to determine if it is of interest to the DFS. It is unclear whether and to what extent domestic users have been caught up in the program. An earlier Intercept report from 2017 analyzed leaked documents that suggested Japanese police and intelligence agencies were involved in in regional surveillance operations managed by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The report notes that the NSA provided XKEYSCORE, a surveillance tool that can search through a range of content and metadata online, to the DFS.118

C6 0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 3 / 6

Service providers and other technology companies can be required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users. Some companies cooperate with investigative authorities by turning over their users' data without receiving a court order.

In June 2022, after the coverage period, an amendment to the Telecommunications Business Law was enacted that contains new regulations to protect users’ information and improve transparency around its handling.119 The government had passed a cabinet decision on the bill’s revision in March 2022. The bill is the first regulation in Japan against telecommunications businesses’ provision of non-personally identifiable information to third parties, such as “cookies,” which record browsing history.120 The law also requires telecommunications companies, search engines, and social media platforms to make their user information handling policies public and obliges businesses to notify users when they share their information with third parties.121 Key components of this amendment stem from a May 2021 investigation into the data management polices of LINE, a messaging application with servers based in Japan, after a report revealed that Chinese engineers had accessed LINE’s data without the company’s knowledge.122

In June 2020, Japan passed amendments to the Act on the Protection of Personal Information, expanding the scope of personal data and eliminating restrictions on the law’s extraterritorial applications. Under the amended law, overseas companies are also obligated to notify the government of data breaches that involve sensitive information, cause financial injury, or affect more than 1,000 users.123 The amendments went into effect in April 2022.124

A 2003 law protects personal information collected electronically by private and public sector organizations when it consists of more than 5,000 records.125 Law enforcement requests for this data should be supported by a warrant.126 Amendments passed by the Diet in 2015 defined “personal information” in more specific terms as “biometric information” and “numeric data that is capable of identifying a specific individual.”127 Anonymization provisions allow for personal data to be transferred to a third party without the consent of the subject if specific requirements are met.128 Criminal sanctions for misusing personal data and restrictions on the transfer of personal data to overseas jurisdictions that lack equivalent safeguards were also strengthened.129 Finally, the amendments established the Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC) as an “independent authority under the Cabinet Office,” replacing the Consumer Affairs Agency.130

Changes to the legal frameworks surrounding privacy and surveillance are often considered in the ongoing digitization of citizens’ personal records. The 2013 My Number law introduced a unique 12-digit number for all long-term residents used to access unified social welfare services and taxation purposes. In May 2021, the Diet enacted the Digital Reform Bill, which streamlines how officials in Japan handle and share data and revises how personal data is protected under the law.131 In September 2021, the Digital Agency was established as part of the country’s digital reform efforts; the agency will consolidate personal information among local government and central government servers and link personal data to individuals’ unique 12-digit numbers.132

During the drafting process, experts raised concerns that the new policies to streamline data-handling between the local and central governments will dilute personal information protections previously established by local governments and may enable increased government surveillance.133 The government also declined to answer questions as to whether the Ministry of Defense and the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office were intercepting phone calls and e-mails.134 Concerns around the inadequacy of the bill for personal privacy protection and its concentration of control over personal information under the prime minister have persisted since its passage.135

Under voluntary guidelines drafted by four ISPs in 2005, service providers automatically inform police of internet users identified on websites that endorse suicide, and comply with law enforcement requests for information related to acts of self-harm.136 A law enacted in 2003 and revised in 2008 prohibits electronic communications encouraging sexual activity with minors.137 Under the law, all online dating services must register with the police, verify their customers’ ages with a driver’s license or credit card, and delete or block content that appears to involve someone under 18; most services voluntarily monitor messages in real time to ensure compliance.

Some companies report on data requests they receive from government agencies. LINE reported that 69 percent of the global law enforcement requests for user data that it received between July and December 2021 came from Japanese entities. The company said it complies with requests that are based on a warrant, an investigation-related inquiry, or an emergency order under the Japanese penal code and criminal procedure code.138 Google reported 292 requests for user data between January and June 2021 and produced some data in 80 percent of cases.139 Facebook reported 164 government requests involving 199 accounts between July and December 2021 and provided data in 67 percent of cases.140

C7 0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 4 / 5

Users rarely face physical and offline harassment in relation to their online activities. However, several cases of online harassment were documented during the coverage period.

Individuals belonging to some minority groups are subject to harassment online. In December 2021, photojournalist Natsuki Yasuda filed a lawsuit against two Twitter users for discriminatory posts against her and her father, a second-generation Korean living in Japan.141 Individuals who are half-black and half-Japanese also continue to face racism online. In May 2021, Aren Hachimura, a half-Beninese, half-Japanese basketball player for Tokai University received racist messages on Instagram.142

Discriminatory content against Buraku, the largest minority community in Japan largely seen as descendants of feudal-era outcasts, is also prominent online. In September 2021, the Tokyo District Court banned the offline and online versions of the “Buraku List,” a document compiled by private investigative agencies decades ago containing the information about Buraku neighborhoods, including addresses and the occupations of residents. The court ruled in favor of the Buraku Liberation League and about 230 people from the discriminated Buraku region, finding the list promoted and facilitated discrimination. The judge banned the publication of the lists, as well as their removal from the internet.143

Women also continue to face targeted online harassment (see B8). In a 2021 Cabinet Office survey, 23 percent of women assembly members reported having experienced frequently gender-based harassment over social media or email.144 Such harassment has caused significant offline harm. In May 2020, Hana Kimura, who appeared on the reality television show “Terrace House,” died by suicide after being subject to harassment, that primarily targeted her gender.145

C8 0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 2 / 3

While cyberattacks against journalists and activists are rare, private companies have been targeted in previous coverage periods.

In December 2021, Japanese technology company Fujitsu announced the discontinuation of ProjectWEB, a project information-sharing tool that housed data belonging to several government ministries and agencies, following a May 2021 data breach targeting data belonging to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism and the National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity (NISC), among others.146 Government officials reported that hackers appeared to be searching for data relating to nuclear power plants in the country and the Tokyo Olympics, and cybersecurity experts found suggestions that BlackTech, a hacking group believed to be supported by the Chinese government, may have been behind the attack.147

During the previous coverage period, cybersecurity efforts ramped up ahead of the summer Olympics, which were originally planned for 2020, particularly around internet of things (IoT) devices.148 In October 2020, the British National Cyber Security Centre revealed that Russian military intelligence was planning a cyberattack on the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021 in an attempt to disrupt the event.149 In April 2021, CrowdStrike, a US-based global cybersecurity company, stated that the risk of cyberattacks at the event was low because of the restrictions on audience attendance.150

In 2020, as Japanese companies shifted to remote work during the pandemic, the number of ransomware attacks surged to unprecedented levels, shutting down operations and paralyzing computer and email systems. According to a survey conducted by CrowdStrike, a little more than half of the 200 largest Japanese companies—including Honda, Canon, Citizen Watch, and Asunaro Aoki Construction—had been hit by ransomware cyberattacks, and 33 companies have paid an average of ¥123 million ($1.1 million) to criminal networks to prevent their password-protected data from leaks.151

In February 2019, the NICT, under the MIC, launched the NOTICE program,152 a public program that attempts to crack the passwords of about 200 million internet-connected devices in homes and offices, starting with webcams, routers, and sensors, in order to better secure vulnerable devices with stronger passwords. If a device is successfully hacked, its owner will be advised to strengthen security measures, for instance by making their passwords more complex. Despite promises that the program will not target phones and personal computers, critics have expressed privacy concerns (see C5).