April 29, 2008
We object to "Restriction of Harmful Information on Network Bill" as that would prevent sound social application of digital technology
The Liberal Democratic Party has been discussing what can be translated as "the bill regarding prevention of browsing harmful information on the Internet for sound rearing of minors" ("the bill" hereafter) that may be submitted to the ongoing National Diet.
Since 1988, the WIDE Project has been aiming for construction of public information infrastructure that can contribute to a wide variety of social activities including medicine, industry, education and government. Through global connection among computers and other equipment, the construction of a distributed system on such connections will serve a useful purpose from an individual and social viewpoint, and bring to the fore the relevant issues and problems in order to bring this to fruition. From this standpoint, we are strongly objecting to the bill.
The bill states that the following measures will be taken for protection of minors from harmful information:
- Setting of criteria for harmfulness by a cabinet council and ministerial enforcement of them
- Mandating web site administrators to delete harmful information
- Mandating cellular phone service carriers to install filtering for minors
The WIDE Project indicates their objections as follows.
1. Danger of the government's setting criteria for harmful information and having rights to enforce them
The meaning of information is decided through interaction between senders and receivers of the information. The bill suggests that the government decides the meaning of information, and restricts the access to it uniformly, which will lead to removal of wide possibilities in the information space and prevention of sound development of the information society.
2. Danger of mandating deletion of "harmful information"
If it is mandated for the administrators of online space for sharing and exchanging information to delete "harmful information" based on the governmental standards, situations will arise where people of this country cannot even discuss which information should be regarded as harmful by citing examples. This would endanger the sovereignty of our people.
Also, from the viewpoint of security management, the bill will give attackers new opportunities for attacking information security. It would be possible for the attackers to deprive site administrators of their freedom to operate the sites or even of their ability to earn a living, by repeatedly posting "harmful information" on the target site, as the administrator will have to continuously respond to the posts, and will be punished if they neglect to do so.
3. Danger of mandating service providers to install filtering
We have learned through experience that users need to be able to flexibly operate on filtering.
Among widely used filtering technology today are spam filters to distinguish nuisance e-mail messages.
Although natural languages such as Japanese or English have polysemy, today's filtering programs are not intelligent enough to handle this property of the languages. Day to day, many useful pieces of information are filtered by spam filters so that they do not reach the correspondents who need such information.
We are afraid that this type of problems will be promoted by the mandated filtering by the cellular phone service carriers that the bill requires.
Filtering is an important and useful technology for improving productivity of individuals by automating selection of incoming information. However, if users cannot turn on and off the feature accordingly to their present needs, or if they cannot access the filtered information when needed, their productivity will inevitably deteriorate.
Towards sound social application of digital technology
The Internet has proliferated as both a technically and a socially distributed system where many computers and other pieces of equipment can be connected and where various individuals and groups can participate in a personal manner. By fully utilizing the characteristics of digital technology, becoming indispensible infrastructure. The best way to tackle problems in this distributed system is to do it in a distributed manner. If a central entity tackles those problems in a uniform way, it might lead to loss of advantages of digital technology or distributed systems themselves.
We cannot expect minors to learn if we do not solve problems surrounding them where the problems arise.
If we are to think that sound rearing of minors will be achieved by the central force that silences information and controls inputs for the minors, it would mean that we are neglecting the power of families, the power of education and the power of industries. Should this be realized, the power of families, education and industries in this country will continue to be lost.
It should be our principle that problems are to be solved where they arise.
Otherwise, the people of Japan will not be able to competitively survive in the world by improving their problem-solving abilities as the global environment in the 21st century changes rapidly.
The WIDE Project will by all means cooperate in applying the digital technology's characteristics as being an infrastructure for solutions in a distributed manner against social problems happening in the distributed system, and contributing in planning and executing such solutions.
The WIDE Project members