User info Disclosure Requests by Law Agencies
LINE is a messaging app that allows people who are close friends to easily, enjoyably, safely, and securely communicate with each other. Owing to the nature of the app, it is essential that we carefully protect the privacy of our users. In principle, we do not provide user information to third parties without his/her consent. User information is also not used for other purposes that exceed the necessary boundaries of the services we provide. In principle, we do not comply with external requests for user information and we implement a number of security measures to prevent any unintentional breach of privacy. We do not in any way cooperate with any activities that unfairly threaten the human rights of our users, such as eavesdropping or censorship by state authorities.
One exception to the above is cooperation with criminal investigations—when we receive a request from law enforcement, we provide information required for investigation, within appropriate scope, in limited instances when compliance is appropriate per applicable law.
LINE’s Stance in Cooperating with Criminal Investigations
The following is our stance in cooperating with criminal investigations should the need arise.
What does it mean to cooperate with an investigation?
“Cooperation with an investigation” means that LINE will submit a suspect’s and/or victim’s registered information and information on usage to an investigating organization, such as the police, to aid in solving cases where a crime has been committed or a human life/body is threatened. We will not submit or provide information on unspecified users.
Why does LINE provide assistance in criminal investigations?
LINE cooperates in investigations to help in the arrest of suspects, to alleviate damages, and to prevent crimes, such as fraud, murder, assault, and other criminal offences. It is the responsibility of LINE as an infrastructure provider to offer a safe and secure environment for users to feel at ease using our app. As explained below, we cooperate in investigations only within the restraints of the law and in cases that meet our strict standards.
The main servers for the LINE app are located in Japan. Consequently, we conduct our operations in accordance with Japanese law. Under Japanese law, when there is a need for criminal investigation, a prosecutor, a prosecutor's assistant officer, or a judicial police official can search or seize upon warrant issued by the judge, and the requested businesses are obliged to follow the order (Article 218 Paragraphs 1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). Also, it is prescribed that among investigation, the investigating authority could request report relating to necessary items. (Article 197 Paragraph 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). This is not only true for us but for other businesses in Japan as well.
What is the process for deciding whether to cooperate?
Once we receives a request to aid in an investigation, our privacy protection organization (legal, security, government policies) carefully goes over the details of the case to verify the propriety of the investigation and whether to cooperate from the standpoint of legality and the protection of LINE’s users. Based on this examination, LINE will refuse the request if it is legally insufficient. In the event the scope of the request is too broad for the purpose of the investigation, LINE will request the investigating body to provide an explanation of its intent. Should the explanation be insufficient, then LINE will not be able to respond to the request for cooperation. In addition, should the user information that is the target of the investigation have exceeded its storage date, then LINE will explain to the authorities that the information has previously been deleted.
The person in charge at LINE will only cooperate with criminal investigations in accordance with strict information handling rules, and only when a thorough verification confirms the legalities and propriety of the investigation. Information is provided solely in accordance with LINE’s strict internal procedures. Law enforcement is not allowed to eavesdrop or build a backdoor against our user privacy protection policy. Furthermore, we do not comply with requests which the cause of the crime is not related to LINE use, such as a request in terms of national security (public safety, counterterror measures) which is not yet turned out to be a criminal act and based on the grounds of abstract risks or a request for censorship.
Confirmation of irregular processes
In principle, we will not provide or submit information to investigating organizations without following the aforementioned processes. However, exceptions may apply in the following circumstances.
・In emergencies requiring immediate action such as suicide threats, abductions, and other cases where a human life is in danger (Article 37 Paragraph 1 of the Japanese Criminal Code)
In these situations, the privacy protection organization will verify the legality and propriety of the situation, and will only proceed with the cooperation once confirmation has been made and only in accordance with our rules on handling information.
LINE handles requests from non-Japanese law enforcement according to the Act on International Assistance, the mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) of relevant countries and other international investigation assistance frameworks. This includes instances where the Japanese police receive a request via the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO) or Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs receives a request via an embassy. The same rules regarding warrants and verification by privacy protection organizations and other handling rules still apply.
What kind of information does LINE disclose?
Provision is strictly limited to information required for the relevant investigations and trials. When internal review processes determine the intelligence organization's request is too broad for its purpose of use, the company will ask the agency for additional explanation, and in some cases may reject the request outright. We do not submit the information of unspecified users irrelevant to investigations. Disclosure content generally includes the following information held by the company:
・ Registered information of specified users (Profile image, display name, email address, phone number, LINE ID, date of registration, etc.)
・ Communication data of specified users (message delivery date, IP address of sender)
・ a maximum of seven days' worth of specified users' text chats*
*Only when end-to-end encryption has not been applied. End-to-end encryption has been enabled since July 1, 2016. More details can be found here.
*Only when receiving an effective warrant issued by the court.
*Video / picture / files / location information / phone call audio and other such data will not be disclosed.
When a request is received after the passage of the temporary storage period required for service operation, the company will be unable to provide said information as it has already been deleted.
Does LINE notify affected users prior to disclosing their information?
The company will provide notification when it is not prohibited by applicable laws or ordinances and the company otherwise deems it appropriate (ex: will not lead to greater spread of harm or injury).
1. Case Study
If LINE receives a warrant from law enforcement to disclose the communication history between a suspect and victim for a murder case in which the suspect used the LINE messaging app to lure the victim to the murder scene, we would comply.
2. Case Study
If we receive a warrant from law enforcement to disclose the past six-month communication history of a user suspected of repeated theft, we would reject the request on the basis that the specified investigation period is too long.
3. Case Study
In a potential case that a suicidal user had declared to a friend using the LINE messaging app that he or she will jump in front of a train, and the friend approached law enforcement for help because the user could not be reached after that, we may be requested by law enforcement to disclose the IP address and registered information of the suicidal user. In such a case, we would determine whether or not to cooperate based on the following conditions of Averting Present Danger (Article 37 Paragraph 1 of the Japanese Criminal Code).
a) Urgency (based on information provided by law enforcement regarding the date and time, location, and method of suicide)
b) Indispensability (the case cannot be resolved without the information that LINE could provide)
c) Balance of legal benefits (the value of the legal benefit that must be saved is equal to or higher than the legal benefit of protecting a person’s privacy)
Other investigations for which we may incorporate include the following:
・Personal injury (murder, bodily injury, etc.)
・Monetary damages (fraud, blackmailing, etc.)
・child abuse (child prostitution, child pornography, etc.)
・Illegal trades (drug trading, bank account fraud, etc.)
・Threats of illegal activity (suicide threats, murder threats, bomb threats, etc.)
LINE Transparency Report
LINE discloses LINE Transparency Report which provides information about user data requests we received from law enforcement.
At LINE, we believe that cooperating in efforts to arrest suspects, alleviate damages, save human lives, and prevent crimes is part of our responsibility as a communication infrastructure provider. Meanwhile, as widely debated overseas in recent years, excessive information disclosure requests from law enforcement to internet service providers may threaten user privacy. It is essential for us to provide transparency in how often we receive and respond to requests from law enforcement in order to protect the privacy of LINE users strictly and fulfill our social responsibility as the service provider of LINE.
We will regularly update this report to provide our users with peace of mind.
We will continually implement new initiatives that will enhance the transparency of how we treat and handle user information.