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What does GNSS have to do with Privacy and Stalking? A case study of Japan

26 / 08 / 2021
Sakuma Kazumichi
PhD candidate in International and Business Law, Yokohama National University
What does GNSS have to do with Privacy and Stalking?  A case study of Japan
Market Analysis

This is a guest contribution by one of the main cybersecurity experts in Japan which explores the interplay between location data and Japan’s legal system. In particular, the article covers the legal provisions surrounding the cases where the police are entitled to access GNSS data emphasising the latest revisions that Japanese authorities are bringing to the law to combat and prevent GNSS-aided stalking.

Criminal investigation and privacy.

Japan’s legal system has always been very protective of the privacy of individuals. Any investigation by the police can only request Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data if the prosecutor or the police have an investigation permit that allows them access to that specific data. GNSS tracking of vehicles is of particular interest in most investigations. However, legal protection against public officials using your personal location data coming from GNSS devices, protection against private offenders of GNSS-aided stalking is not enforced as effectively in Japan. The country has seen a sharp rise in the cases of GNSS-aided stalking in the past few years.

The Anti-Stalking Act…

According to the latest reporting of the National Police Agency (NPA), in 2019 there were 20,912 consultations on stalking. Perpetrators are using location devices to track other people by secretly installing GNSS transmitters on cars or on their belongings. Although this number decreased compared to 2018 it remained at a high level, exceeding 20,000 cases every year since 2013. A contributing factor to this rise in offences can be the fact that until this year the Japanese law has been quite permissive regarding the use of GNSS devices by private individuals. The remote monitoring realised through GNSS devices by private individuals did not represent conduct prohibited by the law. The Japanese Anti-Stalking Act of 2000, whose purpose is “the prevention of harms to the individual’s body, freedom and honour”, “the punishment of the stalking behaviour”, and the “establishment of assistance measures to the other party” only covered the conducts directly realised on the target as ruled by the Supreme Court in two criminal cases regarding GNSS devices which were attached to the cars of the targets without their consent and were therefore used with the purpose of monitoring such cars and acquiring information about their real time location.

…and its new amendment.

After these final judgments of last year, The NPA in January asked for the covering of the use of such devices by the Anti-Stalking Act. Thus pointing out the urgency to have a revision of the law, and the government adopted in February a bill in order to submit it to the Diet, Japan’s legislature authority, and have a revision of the law. The concern was the new occurrence of other monitoring conducts in the same way of the cases brought to the Supreme Court, or even in similar ways as, for example, by installing applications on the smartphone or the tablet/computer of the targets to track their movements. The Anti-Stalking Act has already been revised two times in the past, thus, even to cover new offences like the ones done through the utilisation of the social networking services, after these new episodes

involving the use of the GNSS and the related judgments of the Supreme Court went through a new reform that was based this time on the use of GNSS. However, the bill adopted by the government and submitted to the Diet did not mention the word GNSS but used general words to broadly designate any system recording and sending information about the location, so as to cover even other different or future devices without the necessity of a further revision. The House of Councillors, the upper house of the National Diet of Japan passed the bill in April, and the House of Representatives, the lower house, passed the bill in May, and in this way, the amendment to the Anti-Stalking Act was definitively approved. The revised Anti-Stalking Act will enter into force from August of this year, which will hopefully mean that the Japanese people will feel more secure once this amendment has been adopted.

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