The Japanese government's data protection policies have been called into question after it emerged that a decommissioned coast guard vessel was sold to a pro-North Korea organisation without any checks as to whether key data on board was first deleted.
The 106-ton Japan Coast Guard patrol boat Takachiho was taken out of service in 2011 and sold to a ship breaker run by a senior figure from the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.
Chongryon, whose senior officials include members of North Korea’s Supreme People's Assembly, carries out many of the functions a NORKS embassy would have in Japan, as there are no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Although radio equipment and weapons were removed from the Takachiho before its sale, it navigation system was left intact, with the 10th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Kagoshima admitting that no checks were made to ensure data records had been wiped.
According to the Yomiuri, the ship could have recorded as many as 6,000 locations over about 250 days when it was handed over.
“The vessel was sold in a state in which information regarding operational patterns of the patrol vessel could have been obtained by some party,” an official told the paper. “We were on low security alert at that time."
That is certainly not the case these days, with heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula and the Japanese coast guard regularly involved in patrols around the disputed Diaoyu (Senkaku) islands.
Although the chairman of the demolition firm, and Chongryon official, claimed that all parts of the boat were scrapped, the revelations will be an embarrassment for Japan in theoretically putting its national security at risk.
To make matters worse, the Coast Guard admitted that there were no policies in place to remove data recording equipment or wipe data before selling decommissioned vessels, meaning the same thing could have happened on other occasions.
That oversight has apparently been corrected now. ®