The appellant in this case had been arrested and punished with a fine for allegedly paying for child prostitution in violation of the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children (before its revision by Act No. 79 of 2014). The news media reported the his arrest for the alleged charge, and all or part of the coverage was made available at several websites that were searchable on the appellee search engine. This case concerned the appellant’s request—based on his personal rights and moral interests—for an order of provisional disposition, requiring the search engine to make websites that refer to the appellant’s criminal record unsearchable. The High Court dismissed the request. The Supreme Court, on one hand, recalled its finding from precedents that the protection of information related to an individual’s privacy is subject to legal protection. On the other hand, it noted that search engines’ provision of search results (1) may constitute acts of expression and (2) has become an important infrastructure for distribution of information through the internet. The Supreme Court then found that the evaluation of whether providing particular search results amounts to an illegal action must take into account both the benefits of making the information at question unsearchable on the one hand, and reasons and circumstances pertaining to providing such search results on the other hand; the court can require that the search engine remove such search results only if the former exceeds the latter. In this case, the Supreme Court found that, while the criminal record at issue pertained to the privacy of the appellant and which he did not wish to be made largely available to the public, such information also concerned the public interest in light of the nature of crimes relating to child porn and child prostitution. In addition, the Supreme Court took into account that the information dissemination was limited to a certain degree considering that such search results did not show up unless a search engine user used the appellant’s name and his residing prefecture together as search keywords. Thus, the Supreme Court found that the benefit of making the information at issue unsearchable did not exceed the need of having the websites at issue on the search engine and sustained the lower court’s ruling.
2016 (Kyo) No. 45