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Japan proposes NSA-style agency and new snooping laws

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In a masterpiece of timing, the Japanese government is considering a new NSA-style agency to monitor internet communications in the country.

Top government security advisory panel the National Information Security Centre (NISC), which is chaired by prime minister Shinzo Abe, is currently seeking public consultation on its Cyber Security 2013 draft report (Japanese), published on Monday.

The report, which sees the government refer for the first time to “cyber security” rather than “information security” to encompass sabotage attacks on critical infrastructure and other threats, proposes some radical steps to help keep the country safe from escalating risk.

It’s summarised briefly in English by Hitachi here, and includes a proposal to set up a Cyber Defence Unit within the country’s Self Defence Forces (SDF) which will be focused not just on protecting the SDF but also civilian infrastructure.

The government may also be allowed to monitor internet communications – currently forbidden under Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution and Article 4 of Japan’s Telecommunications Business Law, according to Defence News.

The military news site spoke to NISC panel member Motohiro Tsuchiya, who revealed that in all likelihood a new NSA-or-GCHQ-style agency, provisionally called the Cyber Security Centre, would be required to conduct the network monitoring.

“We might start monitoring communications. Japan is an island nation, and connected through submarine cables via landing stations,” he added.

“We can tap into these to watch malicious communications. We are not proposing deep packet inspection, for example. The ability to monitor headers and to use lists to stop distributed denial of service attacks might be sufficient.”

While the proposed internet snooping appears not to include messages' content, the plans come at time when an almost unprecedented amount of scrutiny and public anger is being directed at the NSA after whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations.

In fact, it could hardly have come at a worse time and it will be interesting to see whether NISC waters down any of its proposals come July when the final report is due.

Given that it could take years after that before any plans are actually implemented – as negotiation will be needed between several agencies and ministries – the whole PRISM saga may even have blown over by then. ®

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