Behind the Scenes / Closer to cutting ‘special fraud’ phone lines

By Masako Wakae / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Even if a phone line is used by a group to commit a case of so-called special fraud, cutting service to the line is impossible. It is a problem that has long plagued telecommunications providers. However, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has issued a new policy that will allow phone service contracts to be canceled in certain circumstances.

Crime prevention and fairness

An official of a telecommunications provider expressed its delight over the policy change, saying, “The ‘duty to provide service’ has long been an important concept retained by the communications ministry, along with ‘privacy of communications.’ This is a significant revision.”

The Telecommunications Business Law, which places great importance on fair provision of telecommunications services, has imposed a strict duty to provide service for telecommunications providers. It stipulates that they cannot refuse to provide service without a “just cause,” which is limited to circumstances such as damage caused by disasters or accidents; non-payment of fees; and a large volume of communications that cause communication failures and trouble to others. For many years, the law was interpreted as not allowing for the refusal of service simply because a phone line was being used for criminal purposes.

In 2003, regarding many fliers for adult entertainment businesses that could be found in places such as inside phone booths, a question was posed in the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives: “Should we not halt the use of the phone numbers written on these fliers?” The communications minister at the time responded that canceling contracts was impossible: “Communication must be able to be used freely, regardless of its content or purpose.”

Denying criminals access to their tools is a simple way to lower crime. But the communications ministry has valued fair provision of services. The stance derives from the idea that “communication is indispensable for people’s lives and related to fundamental human rights,” a ministry official said.

Diversification of tools

This idea is similar to how electricity or gas services are considered. However, compared to those kinds of services, communications has been strongly affected by rapid technological innovation, resulting in momentous changes in the content of the services and operational methods.

The duty to provide telephone service was included in the public telecommunications law, which preceded the Telecommunications Business Law. At that time most houses had at most a single rotary dial phone and cutting service would have prevented residents from calling 119 in an emergency when a family member was seriously sick or from contacting relatives.

Today, smartphones and computers give any individual multiple means of communication. However, crimes utilizing communications tools are also on the rise, and laws are required to be revised to keep up with the times.

Some communication tools are already more regulated. A law that came into effect in 2006 to prevent improper use of mobile phones allows for cancellation of contracts under certain circumstances. The communications ministry’s investigative commission has also provided a view regarding cutting of internet access.

When it comes to landlines, however, the reasons for canceling contracts have not been clarified, something that might have led to the increasing use of landlines by groups committing cases of special fraud.

NTT Communications Corp. last summer changed its rules so it could cancel contracts over special fraud. Because the communications ministry expressed disapproval toward the change, the company was compelled to cancel contracts in line with the ministry’s interpretation of the law by adding another reason of “concerns of communication failure” after conducting an investigation for three months.

After a series of events, the communications ministry decided to add abuse for the purpose of special fraud as one of the “just causes” for contract termination.

“Finding the right balance between the duty to provide service and crime prevention is difficult at a time when both technology and criminal behavior evolve day by day,” said Ryoji Mori, a lawyer who specializes in telecommunications law. “Given that bank transfer fraud cannot be committed without a phone and the damage from the fraud is severe, this revision is timely and appropriate.”

Urgent need for measures to prevent excessive blocking

One problem that remains to be solved is the issue posed by excessive blocking.

Today, most services that large telecommunications carriers provide to resellers or corporations involve a contract that applies to a particular telephone line. This is a holdover from the time when one line equaled one phone number. Today, however, it is possible to divide a single line into a thousand phone numbers, allowing multiple people to use it.

If a large provider cancels a contract for a line as a whole that is provided to a reseller, service could be cut for ordinary users who have nothing to do with special fraud.

The communications ministry has stated that “contracts can be canceled only on the condition that bona fide users are not inconvenienced.” It appears that new forms of contracts and possible changes to systems will remain under consideration.Speech

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