I'm not the type of person the Japanese government has in mind with respect to the following, and I can't see it ever actually affecting me. Regardless, as an anonymous blogger in Japan, I find it particularly offensive. Kyodo News reports:
The government will begin a campaign to encourage people to use their real names when writing articles or posting information on the Internet to help reduce crimes that are committed due to the Net's anonymity, government sources said.Let's begin on a simple, practical level and note first that encouraging people to use their real identities online might actually promote crime, by letting criminals track down and attack the people they meet online.
...The government has decided to launch the campaign as Internet users can easily access information deemed harmful for youth via the Net, such as how to make a bomb and recommending group suicides.
The communications ministry has judged it necessary to encourage people to turn to Internet sites with less anonymity in order to reduce Net-related crimes, the sources said.
Second, the ministry's plan to fight crime involves treating all citizens like criminals. Because some people use the Internet to break the law, it argues, no one should remain anonymous online. If a few people end up abusing a particular freedom, the solution is not to deny it to all.
Third, the campaign is doomed to be hopelessly ineffective. Even if honest Japanese obey the government's wishes and dutifully use their own real names while posting online, criminals will, quite obviously, still adopt aliases when carrying out their illegal schemes.
But finally, and most fundamentally, the ministry's plan is no less than an attack on free speech itself. The right to speak freely, as American case law has made clear, includes the right to speak anonymously, including on the Internet.
As the Supreme Court ruled (pdf file) in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995):
Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation and their ideas from suppression at the hand of an intolerant society.A more recent, Internet-focused lower-court example is here.
Japan is obviously not bound by American law, but it presumably values the same principles that led that law to develop as it has. I hope Japan reaffirms its appreciation of the importance of free speech and backs away from a misguided campaign that seems to have very little to do with fighting crime, and a great deal to do with chilling the free exchange of ideas.
No sooner do I finish lauding America's firm commitment to protecting anonymous online speech than I find this NPR story (by way of Planned Obselescence and Unfogged) saying that the federal government is trying to force website domain name owners to accurately identify themselves in the WHOIS database, which is publicly accessible.