Japanese police revised wiretapping regulations

The Japanese police have revised their wiretapping regulations to enable investigators to listen in on phone conversations at police headquarters from June 1 without the need to go to telecom carriers’ facilities.

Under the previous rules, investigators had to travel to such facilities in urban areas to wiretap, and were often forced to wait as the number of facilities capable of carrying out the task was limited. “We lacked speed and it was a long-standing issue,” said a senior investigator.

The regulation changes were made by the National Police Agency in line with a new law, which will go into effect on June 1 and expand the scope of crimes to be investigated using wiretaps.

The legislation is expected to help the police investigate organized crimes such as systematic fraud carried out over the phone more swiftly, but critics argue the police could abuse their new powers to invade personal privacy.

The police will still need to obtain warrants in order to gain access to the wiretapping devices, which will be kept at NPA outlets across Japan.

Wiretapping instructors — a newly created position to address such concerns — will monitor whether investigations are being conducted appropriately, the police said. For each criminal case, an instructor will be assigned from among chief inspectors and higher-ranking officials.

There will be 141 wiretapping devices across the country as of June 1, and the police intend to add 47 more by the end of next March. The new device looks like a computer and receives encrypted data from carriers before deciphering them. While the police could only listen to real-time conversations before, they now have the ability to record them.

Since the original wiretapping law entered into force in 2000, the police have used wiretaps in 145 cases, which led to the arrests of 857 people, according to the Justice Ministry.