[EDITORIALS]Tighter rules on wiretaps

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[EDITORIALS]Tighter rules on wiretaps

The Ministry of Justice has prepared a revision of the Protection of Communication Secrets Act, demanding stricter regulations for investigative agencies when they seek wiretaps. The revision, to be voted on by the cabinet at the end of this month, calls for the investigative agencies to report the source and method as well as the type, subject, range and duration of the wiretap. The revision also calls for the prosecutor or judicial police officer requesting communication data through tapping to obtain the authorization of the chief prosecutor of the district office with the jurisdiction.

Tapping, even for legal reasons, has been an issue of never-ending controversy over its obvious invasion of privacy. Stricter regulations for the use of tapping is welcome, especially with the number of taps done by the investigating agencies growing each year. The Ministry of Information and Communication reported to the National Assembly that there were 1,489 cases of tapping by government agencies during the first half of last year. That is 306 more cases than in the previous year. Considering the number of taps applied illegally, the world is a pretty scary place. Even members of the investigative and information agencies carry around several cellular phones, switching constantly to avoid taps.

The increase in the number of wiretaps, of course, has much to do with the rise in crime and the development of technology. However, the present law sets the range of potential taps too wide. The act, revised at the end of last year, excludes 37 of 150 crimes from legal taps. The duration of taps by investigators of general crimes was reduced from three months to two months. The duration of taps set up to investigate crimes against the state was cut from six months to four months. This is still a long period compared with the 30 days provided for in the United States and10 days in Japan.

Revisions of the law will not protect the private communications from the abuse. All presidential candidates, past and present, have promised the eradication of illegal tapping by government agencies, but the public has yet to be assured of their privacy. What is needed as much as a revision of laws is the will of investigators to follow the law.
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