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Proposed Legislation is a Danger to Digital Privacy in Japan

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

June 6, 2017

Last June, Japan’s high court made the decision to uphold the government’s right to place Muslims under sweeping surveillance. Now, the world-renowned whistleblower, Edward Snowden, is warning that the nation is on the brink of mass surveillance unlike anything it has ever experienced before. That is because of a proposed new  anti-conspiracy bill, which when combined with the surveillance powers of the NSA – spells disaster for digital privacy in the country.

What has the NSA got to do with Japan? You might fairly be asking. Sadly, the answer to this question is a hell of a lot. Since 1945, Japan has had to work in close collaboration with the US. When Japan surrendered to the US (following the atomic bombs that were dropped on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima), Japan agreed to military occupation. In 1952, that occupation ended and Japan regained its sovereignty. However, the US maintained a deep seated presence in the country, and the NSA – the world’s biggest snooper – got its claws into the small Pacific nation.

Coming Out of Hiding

For the majority of its time in Japan, the NSA did its work covertly – working in cahoots with Japan’s primary intelligence agency. Over the years, however, that relationship changed and by 2007 the NSA had come out of hiding: opening an office in the US Embassy in Tokyo.

In addition, the NSA runs a number of surveillance operations including LADYLOVE which is located in an air base 400 miles north of Tokyo called the “Misawa Security Operations Center.”

In that compound, the US has an array of antennas that it uses to access vast amounts of satellite communications being transmitted within the region. Among the data that is siphoned by the NSA is Internet data, SMS messages, and phone calls. According to a document from March of 2009, a new project entitled WORDGOPHER allowed the NSA to access “over 8,000 signals on 16 targeted satellites.

That is a vast amount of power to intercept communications data, which has only been bolstered further in the years since.

From Bad to Worse

As if being at the center of a massive US surveillance operation (which without a doubt targeted its own citizens as well as those of foreign enemies) wasn’t enough, Snowden is now warning that Japan’s newly proposed anti-conspiracy bill “is the beginning of a new wave of mass surveillance in Japan.”

According to Snowden, the citizens of Japan’s constitutional rights are under threat due to a data collection tool called XKEYSCORE. That system was installed within Japan in 2013, and the NSA admits that it allows for the mass interception of “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.”

Japan’s government claims that the proposed legislation will be used to single out terrorists and crackdown on around “277 serious crimes” ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, both the UN and Snowden have raised the alarm due to the badly worded nature of the bill, which Snowden feels could lead to abuse at the hands of intelligence within the country.

Much Too Broad

According to the famous whistleblower, the proposed bill:

“Focuses on terrorism and everything else that’s not related to terrorism — things like taking plants from the forestry reserve. And the only real understandable answer (to the government’s desire 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.”

Snowden, who is familiar with XKEYSCORE from his time at the NSA, understands that in combination with the new legislation, the surveillance system could be used to quickly pinpoint protesters or people with opposing political views. In doing so, it is possible that those targets could then be punished harshly for relatively minor offences – including piracy – which carries a substantial penalty (two years in prison) and even criminalizes the downloading of content within the nation.

Seen It All Before

Snowden has likened Japan’s proposed bill to the US’ Patriot Act: which was passed following the 911 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. When that legislation came into existence the US government promised the powers were “ not going to be targeted against ordinary citizens” and “we’re only interested in finding al-Qaeda and terrorists”.

Just a few years later, Snowden said during his interview, the biggest telecoms firms in the US were using the Patriot Act to hoover “the phone records of everyone in the United States, and everyone around the world who they could access.”

With the NSA known to be so deeply ingrained in Japan, it is no wonder that Snowden is so frightened about the digital privacy of Japanese people. The 33-year-old has urged the Japanese government to include strong human rights provisions within the legislation that are “not enforced through the words of politicians but through the actions of courts.”

“This means in advance of surveillance, in all cases the government should seek an individualized warrant, and individualized authorization that this surveillance is lawful and appropriate in relationship to the threat that’s presented by the police.”

In addition, Snowden reinforced his belief that mass surveillance runs the risk of turning healthy democracies into an “us and them” dichotomy. For Snowden, privacy is rightly not about having something to hide, but rather about having the space to form ideas without fear of retribution for thinking alone.

As Noam Chomsky famously said: “if we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” With that in mind, not believing in freedom of speech for our own countrymen signals a severe decay in the makeup of society.

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Protect Yourself

For anyone from Japan (or anywhere else) that doesn’t agree with blanket surveillance of internet traffic, the best solution is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN provides encryption that scrambles a subscriber’s incoming and outgoing web traffic. As such, VPNs are (without a doubt) the the best way for Japanese citizens to protect their digital privacy.

The very best VPNs use military grade OpenVPN encryption, which means that neither ISPs or the government can see what VPN users are doing online. In addition, VPNs allow people to conceal their real IP address by pretending to be in another country.

A reliable VPN service costs as little as $60 to $90 per year. Considering the level of privacy (and freedom of access) that they provide, here at BestVPN.com we consider VPNs an invaluable tool, that everyone should consider equipping themselves with.

Opinions are the writer’s own.

Title image credit: Azat Valeev/Shutterstock.com

Image credits: Rena Schild/Shutterstock.com, Ganibal/Shutterstock.com, Carsten Reisinger/Shutterstock.com

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