Student Voices: Japan-US Cooperation on Privacy

With the Internet expanding in scale and speed, anyone can access any kind of information if they have the resources to do so. With this, privacy may be the biggest issue in the near future concerning consumers, businesses, and governments. Both the US and Japan are thinking of new ways of protecting one’s privacy, but it is tricky to have a good balance between having the free flow of information and the protection of privacy. That is why the US and Japan need to focus on maintaining and ensuring the effectiveness of their current laws rather than adding on new regulations. Achieving a good balance requires a pragmatic approach that can evaluate the effectiveness of legal rules against market-based initiatives.

While ensuring the protection of user privacy in the processing of data promotes the adoption of security, some areas of the Internet need to be looked after more carefully than others. Though both governments have a common perspective on privacy and understand the problems involving cyber security, more cooperation and better resources for managing its ever-changing shape is needed. Both governments should have a close proximity of communication between their private sectors in the forms of:

  • Initiatives toward developing a more transparent and consistent regulatory process with clear intentions and a framework so that the public may also have a say in the rule-making
  • Provisions for timely and efficient dispute settlement through established procedures
  • The engagement of other national and international bodies to ensure that rules elsewhere do not disadvantage or unfairly burden companies.

Both the Japanese and US governments are considering new proposals focused on a unified approach towards protecting and sharing online content and to allow them see the “international context” of any decisions they make. Government involvement is inevitable and perhaps necessary but how do you maximize effectiveness when it intervenes in these issues?

The US Patriot Act and recent Japanese government guidelines for data use are regulations that are already in place, but new export control and government rules governing the holding of data require greater bilateral discussion. There is also concern that new rules may increase compliance costs, reduce profits, and impact the launch of innovative services, which ultimately could diminish competitiveness and growth around the world. The guiding principle should be that regulation is the exception rather than the rule.

To counterpoint these negative developments, the two governments should support the further evolution of the APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules, whose goal is to create a framework for regional cooperation in enforcing national privacy laws and facilitating information sharing. The transforming Internet is developing so rapidly that periodic reviews and updates to regulations are mandatory to maintain a firm grip over Internet security.

Governments also need a clear and flexible policy that permits expanded use of the cloud to deliver services and encourages businesses of all kinds to adopt it. People will always have different views as to what should be or should not be regulated and failing to protect privacy can lead to major problems. The Japanese and US governments must make rapid progress in developing a cooperative approach so that businesses and consumers can have certainty and consistency. This will help to address the challenge of enforcing these regulations between Japan and the US and lead to a solid foundation for a model of global interoperability.

One thing is certain; people have always needed a sense of security whether it is from government oversight or through private measures. Frankly, the government should only go so far in intervening into the lives of “netizens”. Of course governments do intervene under the banner of national security, but the World Wide Web should be as free as possible. This feature is what I think everyone finds so appealing—you are in control of your own world on the Web. If the Japanese and US governments as well as “netizens” can cooperate and if governments are able to maintain a limited approach, we can realize the full potential of the Internet.