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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Analysts call arrest over exam cheating overkill


Staff writer

The media are in a frenzy over the arrest of a 19-year-old boy for allegedly posting questions from the Kyoto University entrance exam online to get outside help.

But because an arrest for cheating on an exam is very rare, lawyers and experts are questioning the police action and argue the boy doesn't deserve such severe punishment.

"The way police handled the situation is totally out of line," said lawyer Tsutomu Shimizu, head of the private group Akarui Keisatsu wo Jitsugen Suru Zenkoku Nettowaaku (National Network to Realize Better Police), although he added cheating cannot be condoned.

"If cheating on an exam is a crime, there will be too many criminals," he said.

The boy, whose name is being withheld because he is a minor, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of posting questions from Kyoto University's entrance exam on a question-and-answer website from a cell phone.

The arrest was based on the allegation that the cheating obstructed Kyoto University's operation to select successful entrants. Obstruction of business is a crime under the Penal Code.

Kyoto University went to the police after discovering the online postings.

It filed a formal damages report and then at the request of police submitted the documents necessary for them to start an investigation, Kyoto University President Hiroshi Matsumoto said in a statement posted on the school's website.

Posting exam questions on an Internet bulletin board "is worrisome for exam-takers and society. We think it is very regrettable," Matsumoto said.

Kyoto police spokesman Akira Koga said the boy was arrested because the "social impact (of the cheating) is huge."

However, experts argue the university should not have resorted to the police so quickly, and there were other steps it could have taken.

With the police help, Kyoto University probably found the suspect faster than it would have otherwise. However, Shimizu said, the university could have gone directly to mobile phone companies, Yahoo Japan, which operates the Chiebukuro Q&A website, and other universities.

Once Kyoto University reported the case to police and they started investigating, officers had to treat the incident as a crime, and thus they would probably have arrested the boy even if the college asked them not to, Shimizu said.

In the process of the arrest, news outlets reported the prefectures where he goes to a preparatory school and used to go to high school, triggering a media frenzy, Shimizu said.

The boy would not have been subjected to this if the university hadn't gone to the police, he said.

"The arrest will affect the boy's entire life . . . that is undeserved. If universities want to send a message to the public that cheating is bad, failing a cheater is enough," Shimizu said.

TV commentator and brain scientist Kenichiro Mogi also criticized the university's action.

The school "should have disqualified (the boy) and taken care to let him move on to his future," Mogi wrote in his blog.

Shimizu said creating a situation in which students are banned from using mobile phones during exams is much more reasonable than using someone as a scapegoat.

Meanwhile, Internet literacy expert Hiroyuki Fujishiro, who is also the representative for the Japan Center of Education for Journalists, said an incident like this was bound to happen because adults don't know enough about the Internet to guide their children.

"It is adults' responsibility to teach children what to and not to do. Punishing children after they do something bad is very irresponsible of adults," said Fujishiro, who sometimes lectures about Internet literacy at the invitation of universities.



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