Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I'm sure it's bad everywhere, but the struggle for privacy is very tough in Japan. The privacy bill as it is currently written has the risk of limiting the freedom of journalists in collecting information. For this reason, privacy advocates have been at odds with the mass media generally and journalists in general tend to be negative about privacy issues. (Although some journalists have been doing a great job covering stuff.) Privacy debates in Japan tend to be rather emotional without dealing with the technical issues very much. It's kind of like arguing in court without an understanding of the law. Since I began protesting the national ID in Japan I have found that I am now able to convince most technical people about the merits of having privacy built into the system and it is now mostly non-technical and "interested parties" arguing...

Having said that, there are people who ought to know better, who are probably our greatest enemies.

disclosure: this is tainted with a personal issue

Mr. Nobuo Ikeda who used to be a reporter at NHK (the biggest broadcast company) and is now at RETI (a government affiliated research organization) is an outspoken opponent of securing adequate privacy. (On the issue of spectrum, he is on the right side of the argument I believe.) Hiroo got into a scrape with him after publishing the following comment about him in the afterward of the translation of The Future of Ideas.

Hiroo Yamagata's Translator's Notes for The Future of Ideas
And then there's the reverse problem, although it's not Lessig's fault. There were people who read CODE as an endorsement of ALL regulations. We've already started to see the same thing happen with this book. It goes something like this; "As Lessig argues, too much claims of rights on the net hampers its development. In Japan, we have idiots who oppose the national id asking for too much privacy, or bureaucrats refusing to disclose information using privacy as an excuse. So privacy is questionable. And privacy may be an illusion in the first place, because all information runs freely on the Net anyway. So people arguing for too much privacy is doubly misguided." Ikeda Nobuo promotes this sort of argument. Amazing. What can I say? Lessig himself wouldn't have expected to have his argument used AGAINST privacy (he didn't, he told me). It's true that privacy gets to be used as a sorry excuse in many cases. But that's a far cry from denying privacy itself. The value of not being search has been argued in CODE, and the importance of privacy is well described there. Just because some regulations are good, not all regulations are good. Likewise, just because some free commons is desirable, it doesn't follow that everything should be in the commons. This book incessantly stresses "Balance", and that's what we need to look for.
I have to agree totally with Hiroo on this.

Ikeda also writes that Barlow says, "we don't need privacy." I talked to Barlow at the EFF party about this I think that Barlow's position is quite different from the way Ikeda portrays it. Barlow believes in an utopia of full transparency. In such a world, privacy doesn't exist. Barlow DOES NOT however believe we should not fight for privacy as long as there are institutions that are not transparent trying to control us. Why do you think he co-founded the EFF? Barlow was quite suprised to hear that his rather ideological argument had been simplified to, "Barlow says we don't need privacy." ;-)

The reason this is personal is that in a review of a book I helped write Ikeda says that I am a second generation Japanese who doesn't read Japanese and that I know nothing about Japan. He portrays me as someone who is trying to scare the Japanese with examples of risks from the US and trying to make money selling things to the frightened Japanese. He says that any country which allows people like me "whose only skill is the ability to speak a foreign language" to have influence is a third world country. Anyway, you get the idea. The interesting thing is that he tries to convince you not to read the book without refering to the content of the book.

Having said that, I'm in good company. He calls EPIC a fanatical organization.

I apologize for venting my personal frustration here. I should remember The Godfather's advice, "It's business. It's not personal." The reason I write about this is because Ikeda is an influential guy who often says smart things with regard to broadcast and spectrum. He has interviewed many people and I think people hold him in fairly high regard. That's why I am speaking up. At least on the issue of privacy, I think he is wrong. He may be trying to present a balanced view, but when he says that the extent of privacy risk in Japan is receiving junkmail and should not be compared to the US, I think he is being very naive.

We are starting to have more and more arguments about what Larry actually meant. (The difficulty of trying to present a balanced view.) So I think there might be a business in WWLS (What would Larry Say) blogstickers. ;-)