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Web service firms oppose bill to curb online matchmaking sites.

TOKYO, March 5 Kyodo

The industry bodies grouping Internet service providers (ISPs) and other Net businesses are resisting a proposed bill to curb online matchmaking sites linked to teenage prostitution.

The Telecom Services Association and the Japan Internet Providers Association have submitted position papers critical of the proposed legislation to the National Police Agency (NPA), which drafted it, the associations said.

Critics of the bill include Microsoft Co., Yahoo Japan Corp. and Infoseek Japan K.K., the ISP unit of Rakuten Inc., a major online auction site.

The legislation, which the NPA wants to submit to the current regular Diet session, would bar those under 18 who seek sexual partners from posting information about themselves on these sites.

Under the bill, people posting personal information leading to a sexual encounter involving someone under 18 would be liable to fines of up to 1 million yen. It would also oblige ISPs and operators of Web sites that provide online matchmaking services to ensure that users were aged 18 or over.

Operators who neglected to carry out age verification checks would also be punishable by fines of up to 1 million yen or by a maximum six-month jail term.

The critics of the bill say its definition of ''online matchmaking sites'' is so ambiguous that it may open the way for excessive regulation of Internet services that enable strangers to meet online.

The 225-company Japan Internet Providers Association, Microsoft and Yahoo Japan said in a joint statement submitted to the NPA, ''Leaving the definition ambiguous will create a situation in which the scope of services subject to regulation will become unnecessarily broad,'' thus subjecting innocuous online meeting places to curbs as well.

Other critics of the legislation invoke the constitutionally prescribed principle of defending the secrecy of communications.

The NPA bill defines problematic ''online matchmaking sites'' as ''services for posting personal information on persons who want to interact with those of the opposite sex with whom they are not yet acquainted.''

It also defines them as services that enable people who find someone whose details they are interested in to contact them by e-mail.

But an official at a Net service company said police ''can apply infinitely loose interpretations to these two definitions that would enable them to regulate reputable sites where people contact others who share the same interests or search for former classmates.''

Since the bill would oblige Web site operators to confirm that users of their services are aged 18 or over, it would cause them to incur additional costs necessary for constant monitoring of users, according to critics.

An Infoseek Japan official said, ''The providers of proper Net services might be forced to halt them.''

The bill would obligate ISPs to provide information on the operators of online matchmaking sites.

Hiroyuki Kuwano, head of the secretariat of the 320-company Telecom Services Association, said, ''The legislation might gradually undercut the constitutional principle of defending the secrecy of communications, although ISPs at present do not grant police requests to cooperate with police investigations, unless they are presented with court-issued search warrants.''
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Comment:Web service firms oppose bill to curb online matchmaking sites.
Publication:Japan Computer Industry Scan
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 10, 2003
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