Japan online watchdog gets power to request removal of gun-making info
Japan’s internet watchdog can request instructional posts related to murder, guns and explosives be removed from March, police said Thursday, as authorities respond to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s killer using information found online to build weapons.
The National Police Agency said by adding to the types of content that can be requested for removal by internet service providers, it aims to prevent crimes before they occur.
To strengthen its online surveillance, the agency said it will also consider using artificial intelligence to analyze social media posts.
The agency will in March update its guidelines for the Internet Hotline Center, which it tasks with monitoring online activity and requesting removal of problematic content, and also allocate it more funding. However, any request that an internet service provider remove content is not legally binding.
In the July 2022 shooting of Abe, police quoted suspect Tetsuya Yamagami as telling them he used information found online to make gunpowder and firearms.
File photo taken in July 2022 in Nara shows an object resembling a handmade gun confiscated by the police from the home of Tetsuya Yamagami, the man accused of assassinating former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Kyodo)
The agency is also taking a tougher stance against social media exchanges related to murder and robbery amid cases, including a spate of thefts beginning last year across the country, that are believed to have been planned and carried out by groups that coordinated online.
The IHC considers information on drug trafficking, child pornography and other acts as illegal content.
While the IHC, founded in 2006, did initially include information related to the construction of homemade firearms among what is considered harmful content, it was eventually removed due to a paucity of relevant reports.
The new guidelines will add seven more definitions of harmful content, including murder, making or the transfer of firearms, human trafficking, organ sales, creating hydrogen sulfide and stalking.
Until now, only incitement to suicide had been defined as harmful content. It was added in 2018 after a series of murders came to light a year earlier in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, in which the perpetrator used Twitter to find and contact victims who had expressed suicidal thoughts on the platform.
Content implying requests to intimidate or rob and kill could also be subject to the new guidelines.
While the agency had also considered including fraud and other property-related crimes on the list of harmful content, it decided to forgo their inclusion out of consideration for protections on freedom of expression stipulated in the Constitution of Japan.
The cyber patrol center, which collects information to provide to the IHC, will also receive further support through the envisaged introduction of an AI system that analyzes online posts for potential criminal activity.
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