US security critic sues Japanese government for censorship

Free-speech lawsuit is the 'first of its kind' in Japan

An American computer security expert is suing the Japanese government for violation of his freedom of speech, alleging they censored him at a recent computer security conference, the plaintiff said at a news conference on Monday. The lawsuit is the first of its kind in Japan, according to his lawyer.

A legal firm representing Ejovi Nuwere, chief technology officer of SecurityLab Technologies, filed a petition at the Tokyo District Court against the Japanese government on Monday for punitive damages of ¥30 million (NZ$410,000) for violation of Nuwere's rights under Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution, according to Nuwere's attorney Tsutomu Shimizu.

Clause one of the article guarantees freedom of speech, press and all other forms of expression.

The petition was filed following a claim by Nuwere that officials of Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) forced him to abandon a presentation he was to have given on November 12 on security issues related to Japan's online citizen registry network, called Juki Net.

Juki Net is a national network of databases that contains the names and personal details of nearly every person residing in Japan. It has been surrounded by controversy, particularly over its security.

During a security audit conducted last year, Nuwere and Japanese experts managed to compromise servers in part of the system maintained by one of Japan's prefectural governments. It was about these experiences that Nuwere had intended to talk.

Nuwere claims he was forced to cancel his talk after MIC officials demanded that he remove a series of slides and not voice his conclusions about the audit. The revisions imposed on the talk were drastic, and amounted to censorship, he said.

Calling the MIC's actions an unacceptable act, Nuwere said he was filing the suit with the aim of preventing public authorities in Japan committing a similar injustice.

"The [MIC] has no right to tell any one citizen or non-citizen that they cannot speak," he said. "We should all be entitled to think and speak our own opinion, free from government oversight," he said.

Nuwere said he felt he should file the suit because the MIC did little or nothing to resolve disagreements about the contents of the speech, despite offers by Nuwere to meet with officials to reach an agreement.

"What they did was censorship in its most basic form," he said.

The government will probably respond with a counter-petition in about a month or six weeks, according to Shimizu.

The plaintiff will then decide whether or not to reply, and the case will probably go to court, Shimizu said. If or when this happens, legal proceedings will probably take more than a year, he said.

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