Censorware funded by the Japanese Government

24th September, 2002
SAKIYAMA Nobuo <sakichan@sakichan.org>
Last modified: $Date: 2002/10/08 15:40:24 $



Recently, censorware - content filtering software[1] becomes widely used in Japan, particularly on schools, offices, and public libraries. There are already many criticisms[3][4][5][6][7] against censorware, so I don't repeat the same discussion.

Here in Japan, several commercial censorware products developed in the U.S. are localized and used, but in this article, I focus on a censorware product funded by the Japanese Government. That censorware is developed by an auxiliary organization of the Government and funded by the Government, and its rating database is operated by another industry-based organization which represents Internet Industry in Japan, and the operation business is fully funded by the Government. The feature of the censorware lacks transparency, and the operating organization plainly ignores the accountability. In this August, I released a tool which decrypts the rating labels in the censorware right after the release of the new version of the censorware, because its license did not prohibit reverse-engineering. Now a minor-upgraded version of the censorware was released. That is not compatible with the previous version, and the new license prohibits not only reverse-engineering but also any criticism against the product.

The government-funded censorware project does prohibit criticism by users of the product! So I decided to write a whole story in my poor English.

1996-1997: First government-funded censorware was created

In 1996, Electronic Network Consortium [8], which was a trade organization run by the New Media Development Association [9], an auxiliary organization of Ministry of International Trade and Industry [10], began to promote the use of censorware [11]. At the same time, NMDA began to develop a PICS-based label bureau. In 1997, ENC announced that NMDA created a third-party label bureau [12] and that ENC began to operate the bureau [13]. These releases says:

The New Media Development Association (NMDA) that hosts the ENC has been engaging in developing PICS-compatible blocking software for the Internet. This is part of the "Creative software development program" funded by Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) through the Information-technology Promotion Agency.

so, that business was funded by the Japanese Government. ENC also began to distribute a client part of censorware, which hooked each HTTP access in the installed clients, looked up the URL in the label bureau of ENC.

My first action and the response from ENC

Rating categories and levels of the ENC label bureau was similar to that of RSACi, but ENC rating, which was named as SafetyOnline, was far different from the RSACi, because:

I thought that the ENC project lacked transparency and accountability. I met with Akio Kokubu, who was the executive director of ENC, a director of NMDA and responsible for the project, and asked him to disclose the rating criteria used in rating work, and all rating data. He refused my claim.

One day in 1998, I found that the ENC bureau allowed the "tree" option in queries, and I finally got the whole label data, using a query for the URL "http://" with tree option. I talked about that to a free-lance journalist, who was a friend of mine. He searched the whole label data, and picked up some miss-labeled data, such as

After he released the report [14], ENC silently removed miss-labeled data. So, I created a web site which described the way of getting the data, and made the data available for everyone [15]. My friend reported again [16]. The next morning, ENC modified the label bureau to refuse the tree option.

1999: Filtered proxy server was released

In 1999, ENC released a filtered proxy server product and stopped the distribution of the client-side censorware [17]. Settings of the filtering can be written by PICSRules. Label data were encrypted and distributed as a prefetch cache from the central server of ENC to each proxy server in the user side by undocumented protocols. The rating bureau was not changed, but ENC started to use semi-automatic rating system to grow the number of URLs. I asked ENC to disclose the label data and the rating criteria again, but ENC refused it. In 2001, I found that the "encryption" for the label data was really very similar to ROT-13, and the distribution protocol was extension to PICS, so I got all label data again. But, soon after I got the data, ENC released the next version of the filtered proxy [18]. The encryption algorithm and the distribution protocol were changed. So I did not release the tool.

ENC joined ICRA as a founding member

In 1999, ENC joined ICRA as a founding member. From that time, Mr. Kokubu, who is responsible for the ENC censorware, is also a vice president of ICRA.

2001: Organizational change of the provider of the censorware

In 2001, ENC was merged with Internet Association of Japan (IAJ) [19], and renamed to Internet Association Japan (IAJapan) [20]. IAJ was a most famous nonprofit organization for promoting the Internet use of business in Japan, and people in the Internet community in Japan thought IAJ was grass-root and represented the Internet community. On the other hand ENC was regarded as a puppet of the Japanese Government. After the merger, IAJapan inherited the image of IAJ, and succeeded in taking leadership in the Internet community in Japan. So, the business of ENC were changed to the business of IAJapan which represents the Internet community in Japan.

2002.8.8: a new, worse version of censorware was released

IAJapan released a new version of the censorware product suite on 8th August, 2002 [21][22]. The new system is composed of one or more filtering proxy servers and one local label bureau. Encrypted label data are distributed from IAJapan's label distribution server to local label bureaus in the sites installed and filtering proxy servers simply query a local label bureau. Filtering proxy now has a keyword blocking feature and blocking words are encrypted. The rating system was changed. In the new rating system, named as SafetyOnline2, all categories are aggregated into single category for "simplicity". The rating description has only five levels of "harmfulness". The description also says that it is easy for users to understand, but it clearly lacks any transparency and accountability. Of course, rating criteria was not disclosed.

2002.8.11: I released a decryption tool

At that time, the license of the censorware suite was liberal that it only prohibited the redistribution of the software and did not prohibit reverse-engineering. The censorware suite was very easy to reverse-engineer, because all system was written in Java on top of the W3C's Jigsaw, so I did it. I released a tool to get label data in 11th August, and another tool to get a list of banned words in 18th August [23]. An IAJapan staff asked me to remove the tools and the documents from the web, but I refused it.

Erroneous labels

I did not talk about the contents of the label data in public at that time, but it is very bad. Clearly erroneous ratings I found in 1998 but did not reported in public remains the same. Web sites for personal users of many major ISPs in Japan are rated as a highest value "4" using "generic" label as a whole. An activists' site to struggle against the gay discrimination is rated as "1".

Blocking words are also erroneous. The list contains such as "male", "female", "Free", "HTML".

2002.9.17: IAJapan tries to stop any criticism

IAJapan released a minor-upgraded version of the suite on 17th September, 2002. That was mainly a maintenance release, including fixes to some critical bugs. But at the same time, IAJapan stopped the support of the older version, including the distribution of labels. The license of the suite, which was needed for upgrade, was rewritten. The new license [24] says:

User shall not engage in any of the following acts;
(a)	to distribute, transmit or provide, by any means, all or part of the 
	Software to any third party;
(b)	to change, alter, adapt, de-compile or disassemble all or part of the 
(c)	to decode all or part of the Label Data or any encoded data which are 
	included in the Software, or to distribute, transmit, provide or 
	disclose, by any means, the  Label Data to any third party; or 
(d)	to engage in any activities which We consider would interfere with 
	Our Purpose or business, by means of the use of the Software or the 

I was not surprised that IAJapan prohibited the reverse-engineering, but was surprised that IAJapan prohibited the disclosure of labels for two ore more pages and that IAJapan also prohibited "any activities which We consider would interfere with Our Purpose or business". These clauses prohibits any criticism of the users of the censorware of IAJapan.

IAJapan and Government

The chilling license of IAJapan may not be a problem if that is a purely private business. However, IAJapan's business which operates the rating system and promotes the use of censorware is fully funded by the Japanese Government. I describe above that the development of censorware was funded by MITI (and METI) through the IPA. Moreover, in fiscal 2002 year, IAJapan directly receives funds from the Government to operate the rating system and to promote the use of the system. The budget of IAJapan [25] says that it gets 50,000,000 yen (about 400,000 $) from the Japanese Government for the censorware business.


[1]A content filter is one or more pieces of software that work together to prevent users from viewing material found on the Internet. [2]

[2]CPSR Filtering FAQ. http://www.cpsr.org/filters/faq.html

[3]Filters and Freedom 2.0, EPIC. http://www.epic.org/bookstore/filters2.0/

[4]Censorware Project http://www.censorware.net/

[5]PEACEFIRE http://www.peacefire.org/

[6]Seth Finkelstein's Home Site http://sethf.com/

[7]Internet filtering hurts those who are least able to protest it, Andy Oram http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/2023

[8] The web site of ENC is http://www.enc.or.jp/eindex.html

[9] The web site of NMDA is http://www.nmda.or.jp/index-en.html

[10] MITI was reorganized to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in 2001. The web site of METI is http://www.meti.go.jp/english/index.html

[11] ENC press release: Initiative to promote the provision and the dissemination of Internet blocking capabilities, November 18, 1996, http://www.nmda.or.jp/enc/rating-english.html

[12] ENC press release: Creation of the first PICS compliant label bureau in Japan, August 1, 1997, http://www.nmda.or.jp/enc/ratingdb-english.html

[13] ENC press release: Operation of the first PICS compliant label service bureau in Japan, September 16, 1997, http://www.nmda.or.jp/enc/ratingop-english.html

[14] A web site of a LDP member of House of Councillors is deemed to be unacceptable for education (In Japanese) http://www.ninjin.net/radica/HTML/980909.html

[15] That web site does not exist anymore because the service provider was merged and stopped the service. I have a backup, but I will not have it online again, because the most of the information is obsoleted.

[16] Dubious contents of a rating database (in Japanese) http://www.ninjin.net/radica/HTML/980911.html

[17] ENC press release: Development and Operation of the Next-Generation Rating/Filtering System on the Internet - For an effective provision for children against inadequate information -, April 30, 1999, http://www.nmda.or.jp/enc/rating2nd-en.html

[18] The new version of Server-Type Filtering System (SFS 2.0) is now available for free !http://www.nmda.or.jp/enc/rating/eindexold.html#sfs2000

[19] Internet Association of Japan http://www.iaj.or.jp/index-e.html

[20] Internet Association Japan http://www.iajapan.org/index-en.html

[21] Development of the new Rating/Filtering System on the Internet (in Japanese), August 8, 2002, http://www.iajapan.org/rating/press/sfs301-press.html

[22] SFS Version 3 Series Now Available, August 8, 2002 http://www.nmda.or.jp/enc/rating/eindex.html#sfs3rel

[23] Censorware: IAJapan (in Japanese) http://www.jca.apc.org/~sakichan/censorware/IAJapan/

[24] Terms of Use http://www.nmda.or.jp/enc/rating/elicense.html

[25]Income budget of Heisei-14 fiscal year (in Japanese) http://www.iajapan.org/disclosure/H14yosan1.pdf