Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Online election campaign in Japan


A revision to the Japanese Public Offices Election Act (“POEA”) to allow online election campaigning was passed by Upper and Lower Houses into law in April 2013.

By this revision, the ban on the use of the Internet for election campaigns during specified official election campaign periods (“Campaign Periods”) will finally (but not completely) be lifted in Japan, beginning from the Upper House poll in July 2013.

Previous regulations and election campaigns

The POEA was legislated in 1950, which has been revised several times but not taken into account of a progress of Internet.

According to article 142 of previous POEA, during Campaign Periods, candidates of public offices were basically prohibited to distribute any documents or drawings for a purpose of election campaigns, except for postcards and posters strictly specified in POEA. Therefore, once a Campaign Period begins, until the period ends, political parties and candidates could not update their websites and blogs, use social media like Twitter and Facebook, or send e-mails encouraging votes, since these actions were construed to be distribution of documents or drawings prohibited by the article.

Candidates and political parties had very limited ways to communicate with voters during Campaign Periods. Using traditional campaign media, such as official election publications, campaign broadcasts, street speeches and campaign cars running every street and path, candidates could just send out one-sided messages to the voting public. The number of voters who could actually get information from these media sources and the chances for voters to interact with the candidate were limited. Apparently, this situation was far behind other countries/regions such as the United States, EU and South Korea. While online election campaign was discussed in 2010 as well, such discussion did not proceed to a bill due to some political conflicts at that time.

Merits of the revision

The revision will allow public voters, political parties and candidates to (i) update their websites and blogs and (ii) use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook as channels of their election campaigns during Campaign Periods. For example, candidate can encourage public voters to vote to the candidate by using his/her website during Campaign Periods, which was previously prohibited.

The largest merit of this revision is that it promotes interactivity between candidates and public voters during Campaign Periods through online election campaigns. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook enable public voters to inquire candidates directly and receive answers from them. Since these exchanges between candidate and voter are online and available to the public, other voters can join the discussions. In addition, these discussions also give political parties and candidates a big opportunity to explain, adjust and improve their policies promptly by receiving various and timely feedback from a wide range of public voters.

As another merit, the introduction of online election campaign will also promote debates between public voters on policy issues and draw attentions to democratic process from apolitical young. In Japanese public election, typically, voter turnouts of young voters are significantly low. According to a turnouts report issued by Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan in 2012, only 33.68% of public voters at ages 20-24 actually voted on the Upper House’s general public election in 2010, while 78.45% of voters at ages 65-69 actually voted. (

Question to the revision

However, the revision sets a limitation on who can send out e-mails as election campaign during Campaign Periods. Only political parties and candidates can use e-mails as one of channels of their election campaigns during Campaign Periods, while public voters cannot. At the Special Committee for Revisions of POEA, before passing the revision, legislators had a big discussion with respect to this limitation. They finally compromised to set the limitation by making a change to the bill to keep the door open for removing this limitation in future.

It is very confusing to the public voters that their usage of emails for sending message regarding election campaigns is prohibited while tweeting the same messages is allowed.

The rationales explained at the Special Committee by the bill's authors are: (i) e-mails can be rather difficult to find out spoofing or defamation (spoofing and defamation are punishable under the revision) than websites, blogs and social medias, since e-mails’ content is private and not accessible to other Internet users; and (ii) spam mails can be dramatically increased during Campaign Period if anyone are allowed to use e-mails for election campaigns.

However, we can say that a spoof concern is common issue among websites, blogs, social medias and e-mails. In addition, when someone sends out spoofing and/or defamation emails broadly, some recipients would post the fact (or even copy of the email) on Internet for warning or discussion purpose. In this respect, we can also argue that e-mails are not always private. Further, we could also say that, if someone sends out such email to some people but not so broadly enough to make some recipients to post it on Internet, the email would not have effects worth punishing as spoofing/defamation. Although it is almost impossible to wipe out all spoofing/defamation mails and spam mails, I think legislatures should focus on public benefits that comes from voter’s proactive discussion regarding politics by using multiple and convenient communication tools including e-mails.


Considering facts that Japanese public election system has been significantly behind and conservative in terms of using Internet, and that this revision is the first big step for the system after heavy discussions by legislatures, I appreciate the revision in general. Legislatures should eagerly seek to lift all limitations on usage of emails for election campaigns immediately after dealing with their concerns.

-- YukoKawai - 25 Apr 2013

Another fine example of the overwhelming difficulty of preserving liberty in the Net without having the benefit of a general principle of freedom of speech that can be used to prevent the political class in society from having everything its own way. Only the idea that people don't have the right to speak however they please about politics will permit some fools to attempt to discriminate between political noise made on Twitter and similar noise made by email at port 25. This is not inherently more objectionable to principles of free speech than rules that purporting to limit people to fewer rights to speak during "campaign periods" than "normal time." But the Net immensely amplifies the inherent conflicts between the sham announcement of "democracy" and the reality of managed politics.

For the revision, imagine for a moment that people have a right of free speech, about politics as about everything else, which it is wrong for the State to interfere with by prohibition for less than the gravest of immediate reasons. How can any of the remaining regulations left behind by the "improvement" by justified against this background?



Webs Webs

r3 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:44:50 - IanSullivan
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