Japan’s Multistakeholder Community Gathers March 10 and 14, 2014 on Privacy and Internet Governance

It has become commonplace to talk about the role of the multistakeholder community in decisions related to the Internet. This may not be as much about the practical results stemming from gatherings of the community through the Internet Government Forum (IGF) process as it is the inability of national governments  to create a coherent alternative framework. Indeed the assertions of “cyber sovereignty” coming from China and elsewhere suggest that “international” solutions are still a bit over the horizon – although this will be topic of discussion at April 23-24 NETmundial in Sao Paulo and the ITU

Japan is a strong supporter of the multistakeholder principle, although the local community is still small in proportion to the size of the Internet economy. For this reason, two meetings that took place in Tokyo in mid-March are significant.

Multistakeholder Forum on Privacy in Japan (March 10)

On March 10, KICIS organized the Multistakeholder Forum on Privacy in Japan and brought together Japanese and foreign legal and business experts on privacy with representatives from various sectors of Japanese society and economy. Included in perhaps Japan’s first ever public multistakeholder panel were two representatives of the NPO community, private attorneys concerned with issues related to personal information, a woman manager from the small business community, a software engineer, a foreign policy analyst from an international business advocacy group, a software engineer and a university graduate student.

Listening to their stories and statements, it was clear that privacy first and foremost has a human face and context. Privacy is fundamentally not about business interests or government policy. It is about people. For that reason, it is more complex and nuanced than the policy experts might lead us to believe.

There is no doubt that people in Japan want “privacy.” But this is a “situational” not an “absolute” concept. After 20 years of slow to no growth, they also welcome the potential innovation and new business opportunities that cloud computing and Big Data offer.

People are understandably careful. They want to know how the government plans to define “privacy” and what new institutions and processes it will create to protect it while expanding the benefits of the new services available through the cloud. The clear message coming from the March 10 session was that what people in Japan with a stake in the future of the Internet, i.e. the multistakeholder community, want most of all is a voice in the process.

Japan has always had a predilection to leave complex decisions up to the administrative elite but the current deliberations on a new privacy framework for Japan may open up a room for a different model. The Internet is omnipresent here. People are immersed in their smartphones, connecting with work, home and friends. They have a stake in privacy and want to know where the government is headed.

Yet so far open, public debate has been limited. The government appointed an advisory committee in September and it released an interim report in December with a promise to provide recommendations on new legislation by June. The backdrop is that the current legal framework for protecting personal information, the Personal Information Privacy Law, has not been revised since its introduction more than a decade ago. Moreover, there have been no prosecutions under the law or legal challenges related to its administration, raising concerns domestically and internationally about efficacy of the law.

So change is overdue and with the government and business communities eager to reap the economic benefits of “big” data, there is real interest in moving ahead quickly. That is why KICIS and others are asking that the government hold public hearings and make clear the direction that they are heading in advance of releasing the advisory committee’s final report. KICIS will be convening a follow up forum on privacy involving additional representatives of multistakeholder community on May 13 as our contribution to further stimulating discussion.   This process is important because how Japan approaches this issue will have an impact on developments elsewhere in Asia.

March 14 Japan Chapter of Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Annual Meeting

The third annual meeting of the Japan chapter of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), was convened at Aoyama Gakuin University on March 14.  The Japan chapter was organized four years ago and hosted the Asia Regional IGF in Tokyo in the summer of 2012.  This is the first meeting of the group since the regional gathering and it was brought together to build awareness and develop a consensus in advance of the NETmundial.

KICIS Director Jim Foster joined a panel on privacy with an attorney who specialized in personal information law and a representative of an ICT device manufacturers’ trade association.   There was broad agreement among the panelists on the importance of building in Japan an open, transparent and “bottom up” approach to privacy, characterized by “choice” and “competition.”  Key to this was the creation of an “oversight authority” to protect users without introducing intrusive regulatory oversight.

KICIS Director Foster outlined how the US is approaching this issue through the development of “voluntary” codes of conduct backed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and made the point that the FTC and state regulatory bodies have been vigorous in protecting consumer rights while recognizing that “protecting” information need to be balanced by facilitating its “sharing.”

The attorney noted that the right to pursue “class action” suits through the courts in the US gives companies a strong incentive to comply with even “voluntary codes,” but that this option is not fully available in Japan.   In the end, he and the trade association representative observed Japan will probably take a path somewhere between the market-centered approach in the US and the strong administrative framework seen in the EU.

A highlight of the Japan IGF was an insightful briefing on preparation for NETmundial by an executive research fellow from the Center for Global Communications (Glocom).  He described the purposes of the conference as “crafting principles and “proposing a road map,” with special attention to “globalizing” ICANN, preserving a “single” global network, and strengthening “global community” (read multistakeholder) cooperation.

He relayed that the organizers call for contributions proposing “universal Internet principles” resulted in 188 submissions, divided among civil society (31 percent), the private sector (22 percent), government (14 percent), academia (11 percent) and the technical community (8 percent).   The US with over 30 submissions topped the list, followed by Brazil and the UK.   Submissions from Japan totaled only four.

Over 90 of the submission identified the “multistakeholder community” as a top principle.  This was followed by human rights (85) and inclusion (60).   Economic growth and innovation, “one Internet,” cyber security and ICANN reform each garnered mention in 50 submissions.

US – Japan coordination between our two governments and respective multistakeholder communities will be important in assuring a successful outcome to the deliberations a NETmunidal.   In addition to his contribution to the privacy panel, KICIS Director Foster joined a colleague from the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) and one from the Japan Federation of Industrial Organizations (Keidanren) in briefing IGF Japan on the results of the March 11-13 US-Japan Internet Economy Dialogue.  He underscored how Internet governance was key point of discussion between the two governments and pointed to the likelihood of a follow up meeting in September of this year to review the results from NETmundial and to coordinate a common approach to the ITU plenipotentiary meeting in Busan in the Fall.