Researching the free distribution and control of information

Public Relations Office        May 9, 2019

Stressing the importance of the visualization of data useand the establishment of legislation

Atsuhiro Maruyama

Atsuhiro Maruyama

Atsuhiro Maruyama Professor, Law School
A native of Tokyo, Professor Maruyama completed doctoral coursework at the Graduate School of Law and Politics, Osaka University. After working in various positions, including as a full-time lecturer at Nagasaki Prefectural University and as a professor at Konan University, he took up his current position in 2017. He currently serves on the Osaka Prefectural Freedom of Information Evaluation Committee, the Kawanishi City Personal Information Protection Council, and the Japan Society for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication Editorial Committee. His fields of specialization are the Constitution, German basic rights theory, and information and media law. In March this year, he will publish Gendai Doitsu Kihonken [Contemporary German Basic Rights Theory, 2nd Edition] (Horitsu Bunka Sha), which he translated jointly with KGU’s Professor Emeritus Hideki Nagata and others.

 As the Abe administration has continued, the government has put before the people a series of matters related to the Constitution, such as the right to collective self-defense, conspiracy, and even a proposal to revise Article 9. On the other hand, with the advancement of information technology, various challenges are emerging concerning the massive volumes of data that are being accumulated and the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
 Looking ahead, what will happen with the human rights of individuals and how will society change?
 With these kinds of social trends in his sights, Professor Atsuhiro Maruyama of the Law School is researching the Constitution from the aspects of the right to self-determination and the distribution of information.

 Early this year, at a Law School seminar, he reported on the state of regulation of television commercials in the campaign for a referendum on the revision of the Constitution, in the context of the freedom of broadcasting. He explained the extent to which voluntary regulation was acceptable based on the mechanisms of the Broadcasting Act, the differences between the commercial stations and the public broadcaster (NHK), and the basic frameworks of broadcasting discipline in Japan. He then commented on what matters the senior executives of the commercial stations should take into account when meeting to consider what should be done regarding regulations.

 The free distribution and control of information in connection with areas such as news reporting is one of Professor Atsuhiro Maruyama's major topics of research. He is also engaged in topics such as clarifying the extent to which the rights to the pursuit of happiness and self-determination are guaranteed in Article 13 of the Constitution and the order that the process of substantiation takes when determining the constitutionality of restrictions on human rights.

 Recently, in academic societies and seminars regarding information legislation, themes such as privacy and AI are often the main topics of discussion. Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are written into the Constitution, but the right to self-determination and the right to privacy are not. The right to the pursuit of happiness in Article 13 of the Constitution has the potential to become a “receptacle” for these new kinds of rights such as the right to privacy, but just how far could such rights be guaranteed under the Constitution and by what mechanisms? Professor Maruyama says that these issues are what he is exploring in his research.

 In a society in which information processing technology has progressed, even information that is believed to have no value in and of itself has the potential to take on new, different value by bringing together multitudes of such information (information integration). Professor Maruyama says that the dangers of privacy violations as a result of information integration have increased drastically compared to the past. Take, for example, the security cameras that are now on more and more street corners. The police often collect information, but that does not mean that there is any specific, disciplined legal basis for the way in which it is collected. Professor Maruyama points out, ‘By rights, the establishment of legislation regarding the collection, storage, and use of such information should be pursued.’


 Public organizations cannot act without a legal basis. Professor Maruyama says that, similarly, the intelligence gathering being undertaken by the Japan Self-Defense Force’s Intelligence Security Command also has no legal grounds. The Command monitors anti-JSDF activities and the like as preventive intelligence, and when looked at from the perspective of the protection of privacy, by rights, the consent of the people regarding the control, use, and collection of such information is necessary, but this is not prescribed by law. Professor Maruyama’s analysis of this situation is that, in other words, the people of Japan are not able to exercise self-determination. The reasoning of the party gathering the information is that it is “to protect public order,” and certainly, there is a certain level of support among the people for that argument, that is, they want the JSDF to exercise prevention. Professor Maruyama, however, has his concerns. ‘While it would not be good to tie their hands excessively with legislation,there is a need to consider proactive policies that would allow an independent party to step in and take control. This is, however, being slightly neglected.’

 He also points out the dangers of reward point cards that are issued in a range of industries. Not only are there concerns about privacy violations regarding the government’s My Number system, in recent years, private-sector enterprises are accumulating massive volumes of personal data. Recently, it was revealed that a card management company had voluntarily provided data to the police without a court order. Professor Maruyama holds grave concerns about this development. ‘If private-sector enterprises were to provide information so readily to state authorities, it could become a matter of the concerns inherent in the My Number system being laundered through the intermediary of reward point cards. Depending on the method by which that information is provided, there is potential for far more serious violations of privacy than the My Number system, whose methods of use are strictly regulated by legislation.’

 He also describes scoring by AI as “frightening.” This refers to AI deciding whether or not an individual corresponds to a specific attribute revealed through the analysis of big data, to predict and assess that individual’s abilities and creditworthiness. What AI does is to reveal correlations between data and ability, without knowing the causal relationship between those two things. ‘If AI were to determine that you are not creditworthy, coming back from that would be quite difficult. This is the kind of world that is just around the corner.’

 Of course, no matter how much we divide those attributes into smaller and smaller sub-categories, that is not going to allow us to understand each individual’s personal characteristics. He also points out, ‘Humans have the potential to reflect on themselves and make dramatic changes in themselves. This is part of what makes humans so wonderful, but with AI scoring, that potential is completely ignored. The individual’s potential for growth, that is, their self-determination is at risk of being taken away from them. AI does could become a threat to human beings, who have the potential to live and determine themselves.

 Based on these views, he spoke about the significance of learning about the Constitution. ‘All individuals have their own separate personal characteristics and each individual is a unique presence. On the other hand, those respective personal characteristics are all of equal value, and in that respect, we are all the same presence. What I would first like to see happen is for these two different sensibilities to be conjured from the expression, respect for the individual. If people could understand that the Constitution was written and government mechanisms were created for the purpose of respecting the individual, I believe we will see a change in people’s mindsets, in the way that they look at the world.’