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Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Diet begins debate on watered-down privacy bills

Staff writer

The House of Representatives on Tuesday began debating a package of controversial bills the government says will protect individuals' private information, as well as a counterproposal jointly submitted by four opposition parties.

The government's bills were initially submitted to last year's Diet session but were scrapped in the face of criticism that the legislation would restrict press freedom.

The government revised the proposed laws, dropping the contentious "five basic principles," which included the requirements that all parties handling personal information "clarify the purpose" of its use and acquire information in "an appropriate manner." Maximum fines of 1 million yen or imprisonment of up to two years will be slapped on government employees who unduly provide personal information to others.

The top leaders of the coalition -- the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and New Conservative Party -- say they want to have the government-sponsored bills pass the Lower House without major revisions by the end of the month.

The counterproposal presented by the opposition parties -- the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the Japanese Communist Party -- would allow individuals to exert greater control over the dissemination of their information than the government's package, the parties said.

The opposition plan would also establish an independent committee to deal with complaints over the application of the legislation, instead of a government minister, as stipulated in the ruling parties' bills. It also clearly states that people have "the right to control their personal information" held by both government bodies and private-sector companies that store and sell private data.

The opposition's package would basically prohibit governments and businesses from possessing "sensitive information" concerning an individual's thoughts and beliefs, welfare benefits, criminal record, race, social status and place of birth. Exceptions would only be allowed in the event of legitimate reasons, such as laws that make the possession of such data possible or if the individual in question gives his or her consent.

To ensure freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the legislation would not be applied to information collected for the purposes of reporting, writing, academic research or religious and political activities.

But during the Lower House plenary session, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi argued that it would be difficult to legally define "sensitive information" in advance, as required under the bills proposed by the opposition parties.

LDP rethinks reform

Staff report A Liberal Democratic Party panel considering political reform backpedaled Tuesday from an earlier proposal to tighten the rules on political donations, dropping a proposed 1.5 million yen ceiling on donations that a party's local chapter can receive from a single corporation in a year.

Instead, the 1.5 million yen ceiling should only be applied to firms that depend on public works contracts for more than 50 percent of their sales, said Sadatoshi Ozato, the House of Representatives member heading the team.

The study group also floated the idea that donors should be allowed to remain anonymous if the annual amount they contribute to a single party does not exceed 300,000 yen. The current threshold is 50,000 yen.

The 1.5 million yen ceiling was originally proposed by junior coalition partner New Komeito and was included in the LDP's previous draft for political donation reforms.

New Komeito, which prides itself on its clean image, has also opposed the lowering of the anonymous donation threshold, and whether the ruling coalition can agree to the LDP's latest proposals remains to be seen, Diet sources said.

The LDP team was prompted to consider tighter controls on political donations in the wake of a number of financial scandals involving politicians and public works projects in recent years.

But the watered-down proposals released by the LDP on Tuesday are expected to face further public criticism as they are a retreat from the previous draft, which had already drawn flak from pundits as well as New Komeito.

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The Japan Times

Article 5 of 12 in National news

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