From July 1, a new ordinance requiring customers at Internet cafes to show an acceptable form of personal identification went into force in metropolitan Tokyo.
Writing for "Net Observation File No. 26" in Friday (July 30), blogger-journalist Tetsuya Shibui witnessed the following exchange while observing transactions at one such establishment.
Employee: "If you're going to use the Internet, we are required to confirm your ID."
Customer (a salaryman type): "Confirm ID? That's a hassle. Well then, can I just have the room without using the Internet? I want to catch some sleep."
It seems the commuter trains had stopped running and the man was just looking for a cheap place to sack out, with no intention of surfing the web.
Shortly afterwards, a female customer was admitted on the same terms. She did not show any ID either.
The new ordinance, passed by the assembly last spring, had been drawn up by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, which justified the need for such a law to prevent cyber-crimes.
In the MPD's own words, "People have been abusing the Internet's anonymity. In particular, while in the privacy of cubicles they have been engaged in an unending stream of cyber-crimes, such as obtaining illegal access to customer data or posting defamatory remarks about others."
The problem is, the MPD's own statistics on cyber-crime don't appear to justify the new ordinance. Of the 2,163 complaints filed at the MPD's High Tech Crime Prevention Center during 2009, only about 100 cases were said to have originated from Net cafes, and of these, MPD department head Fumio Yamashita, concedes perhaps "a few dozen" were prosecutable.
Thus despite its adoption as a crime prevention measure, the new ordinance is likely to spill over into other issues. As Hitomi Nishimura, a writer well versed on topics related to poverty and homelessness, puts it, "Evicting the so-called 'net cafe refugees' is likely to aggravate social instability."
"Net cafes, which are open to anyone at low cost, have been the place where people who were hard up could muddle along until they found a job and made some money," Nishimura adds. "Places with similar functions should have been provided by the government, so in a sense the Net cafes have actually been functioning like welfare facilities. When you place restrictions on their use, it's tantamount to eliminating this function."
The MPD defends the ordinance, saying new facilities have been provided to house "Net cafe refugees" and that acceptable ID will be issued by applying at any Hello Work employment office. Moreover, the MPD stresses the ordinance does not aim to exclude any specific type of person from cafes.
Friday counters by noting that many cafes were already applying their own in-house measures before the ordinance was passed. For example, the operator of the "Jiyu Kukan" café chain utilized a membership system that required users to show ID at the time of signup. Since many cafes had already adopted self-imposed measures to confirm user identity and refuse entry by unauthorized minors, the ordinance probably affects only a limited number of smaller establishments.
That's why Hitomi Nishimura believes the new law is likely to hit cafe refugees the hardest. "Some don't have acceptable ID," she says. "Some have no cell phone, and they depend on Internet access to respond to classified ads for jobs. It's very possible that the ordinance is going to hurt such people economically."
Shibui concludes the the ordinance ultimately might see Japan's widening gap in income disparities soon extend even to those on society's bottom rung, as people with IDs, cell phones and access to information will further distance themselves from their peers who do not.© Japan Today