New phones let Japan’s government secretly track its citizens

Japan’s local mobile network NTT DoCoMo launched five new smartphones on Tuesday that will allow the government to secretly track its citizens, reported the Japan Times. In other words, the newly launched smartphones will allow the track a user’s location without their knowledge or consent.

A company’s spokesman said the NTT previously had handed GPS data over to authorities in times of crisis, mostly connected to crime investigations.

“If requested, we provided positional information using the GPS systems on phones to emergency services such as the police, ambulance services and the Japan Coast Guard, in line with proper guidelines,” the spokesman told The Japan Times.

Current smartphone models notify a user when their position is being accessed by a third party. In the past, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications required carriers to get the consent of users before handing over such data to government authorities. However, in June 2015, this requirement was removed and the newly launched smartphones are in response to the law that would allow the users’ GPS to be tracked discreetly.

The first five Docomo Android devices that come with the new feature include the Galaxy S7 Edge, Xperia X Performance, Arrows SV, Disney Mobile, and Aquos Zeta. Current DoCoMo handsets will also get a similar upgrade through a firmware update, although the precise timing is not yet known. The Galaxy S7 Edge will be available in stores from Thursday, while the rest will go on sale in June.

There are some experts who call the development shocking.

“This is an extreme invasion of privacy. It’s nothing like acknowledging merely which country you’re in,” said lawyer Tsutomu Shimizu. “Positional information is highly private because it reveals people’s movements. However, I understand that investigative authorities would need such information in certain situations, so there should be a law passed to help public understanding.”

He said it should be illegal for carriers to provide phone locations without notifying users.
“It is a common practice and belief internationally that personal information should not be distributed to external organizations,” he said.

However, according to Japan Times report, investigative authorities will still require to obtain a court warrant before asking carriers to provide them with location data.

Source: Japan Times