The Japanese sense of information privacy

AI and Society 24 (4):327-341 (2009)
Abstract
We analyse the contention that privacy is an alien concept within Japanese society, put forward in various presentations of Japanese cultural norms at least as far back as Benedict in The chrysanthemum and the sword: patterns of Japanese culture. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1946. In this paper we distinguish between information privacy and physical privacy. As we show, there is good evidence for social norms of limits on the sharing and use of personal information (i.e. information privacy) from traditional interactions in Japanese society, as well as constitutional evidence from the late 19th century (in the Meiji Constitution of 1889). In this context the growing awareness of the Japanese public about problems with networked information processing by public sector and commercial organisations from the 1980s (when a law governing public sector use of personal information was first passed) to recent years (when that law was updated and a first law governing commercial use of personal information was adopted) are not the imposition or adoption of foreign practices nor solely an attempt to lead Japanese society into coherence with the rest of the OECD. Instead they are drawing on the experience of the rest of the developed world in developing legal responses to the breakdown of social norms governing interchange and use of personal information, stressed by the architectural changes wrought by networked information processing capabilities. This claim is supported by consideration of standard models of Japanese social interactions as well as of Supreme Court judgements declaring reasonable expectations of protection of privacy to hold in Japan.
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