Sunday, April 17, 2005

Criminal or Samurai?: Japan's Privacy Protection Law

I have access to my bloglines account again! (btw, I guess this confirms that I'm a blog/ RSS newsfeed addict).

Ok, I came across an article (in English) from about a public library* in Kanazawa (Japan) that "unwittingly allowing access to a listing of former prison inmates from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras."

Seems that Japan passed a privacy protection law (1 Apr 05) that restricts access to personal information. Found two articles on this, from (28 Mar 05) and (undated).

The public library in question "screened its holdings and struck off membership lists of alumni associations and the like. However, the list of inmates was somehow overlooked."

No wonder the library was taking this seriously. Quote from the article:
A Cabinet Office official in charge of the interpretation of the new law said: "If indeed it is possible to pinpoint the (inmates') descendants, the information becomes live information. If it is disclosed, depending on the circumstances, the library may be subject to punishment."
And quote:
Library official Akio Morishita said: "It was an unfortunate pileup of clerical mistakes. The data hold reference value, and we will hold on to it. But we will not allow perusal, even for research purposes."
Cynics out there may ask, "Why keep it if nobody can use it?". But I think it's a logical and far-sighted move by the library not to destroy the item. The law can get repealed or amended, but you can't recreate a historical document.

One more thing: The list specified "names, birthdates, addresses, specific charges such as murder or robbery, and included descriptions of lineage, such as "warrior class" and "commoner.""
Which means while a Kanazawa resident is protected from potential personal embarassment should it be revealed that his forebear was in the list, it also means that someone researching his family tree would have one less resource. A pity then. No law is perfect I guess.

* The library isn't listed in the Kanazawa City website. If you know the URL, please email me.


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