Responding to Law Enforcement 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 respond to 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 support 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 the case of responding to investigations from law enforcement agencies. When we receive a request for disclosure from law enforcement, we may provide the information required for the investigation, within an appropriate scope, in limited instances when compliance is appropriate per applicable law.
LINE’s Stance concerning Responding to Law Enforcement Agencies
The following is our stance concerning our response to law enforcement agencies.
Under what type of legislation and in which circumstances will information be disclosed to a law enforcement agency?
the main servers for the LINE app are located in Japan. Consequently, we conduct our operations in accordance with Japanese law. Under Japanese law, if necessary for the investigation of an offense, a prosecutor, a prosecutor’s assistant officer, or a judicial police official may search or seize upon a warrant issued by a judge, and the requested businesses are obliged to follow the order (Article 218, paragraph (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure).
In addition, the law enforcement agency may ask for a report on necessary matters relating to the investigation (Article 197, paragraph (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure).
Furthermore, there may be circumstances considered appropriate for unavoidable disclosure of information in terms of averting present danger (Article 37, paragraph (1) of the Penal Code) to prevent present danger to human life or body, such as in the case of the need to protect life including suicide threats and abductions.
In this way, we may respond to the law enforcement agency within the scope assessed appropriate, and only ① in the case of an order for seizure for investigation, ② if there is a request for cooperation with an investigation with a legal basis (such as Investigation-Related Inquiry in Japan), and ③ if judged that it would avert present danger.
These laws not only apply to LINE but similarly apply to other business operators in Japan.
What does it mean to respond to a law enforcement agency?
When we respond to a law enforcement agency, LINE will submit the information registered by LINE for a relevant person such as a suspect or victim and information on usage to a law enforcement agency, such as the police, to aid in solving cases when a crime has been committed or a human life/body is threatened only where ① to ③ above apply. When responding to a law enforcement agency, we will not submit or provide information on unspecified users.
Why does LINE respond to law enforcement agencies?
LINE responds to help in the arrest of suspects, to alleviate damages, and to prevent crimes, such as fraud, murder, assault, and other criminal offences in order to protect human life/bodies. 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 may respond to law enforcement agencies only within the restraints of the law and in cases that meet our strict standards.
In the case of international requests
LINE handles requests from overseas in accordance with frameworks for international investigation cooperation such as ‘The Act on International Assistance in Investigation and Other Related Matters’ and mutual legal assistance treaties (MLAT) with specific countries. 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 is the process for deciding whether to respond?
After we receive a request from a law enforcement agency or after recognizing that there is a situation that requires the aversion of a present danger, our internal privacy protection organization (legal, security, government policies) shall immediately and thoroughly examine the details of the case to verify the propriety of the investigation and whether to respond from the standpoint of legality and the protection of LINE’s users.
LINE will refuse the request at that point if there is legal inadequacy for examination in the case of a request from a law enforcement agency. 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, LINE will then explain to the authorities that the information has previously been deleted.
The person in charge at LINE will only respond to the law enforcement agency in accordance with strict information handling rules, and only when a thorough verification confirms the legalities and propriety of the investigation. Information provided to the law enforcement agency shall only be in accordance with LINE’s strict internal procedures. The law enforcement agency is not allowed to eavesdrop or build a backdoor against our user privacy protection policy. Furthermore, we do not comply with requests in 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 has not yet turned out to be a criminal act and based on the grounds of abstract risks or a request for censorship.
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 law enforcement agency’s request in accordance with the writ of summons, bench warrant or detention warrant is too broad for its purpose of use, we will ask the law enforcement agency for additional explanation, and reject the request unless it finds there are reasonable grounds. 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)*
*There is no disclosure through Investigation-Related Inquiry
・ A maximum of seven days’ worth of specified users’ text chats**
**Only when end-to-end encryption has not been applied (if end-to-end encryption has been enabled, even the company cannot decrypt/extract the contents of text chats, so there is no disclosure of the contents of text chats). End-to-end encryption has applied by default 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.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 to law enforcement agencies?
The company will provide notification in accordance with applicable laws or ordinances and the company otherwise deems it appropriate (ex: notification is required by foreign laws and ordinances that do 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 respond based on the following conditions of Averting Present Danger (Article 37, paragraph (1) of the Penal 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 the LINE Transparency Report which provides information about user data requests we received from law enforcement.
At LINE, we believe that responding to requests 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 is currently being widely debated, 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.