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Anonymous in Tokyo: OpJapan cleans up the streets

Anonymous in Tokyo: OpJapan cleans up the streets

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Members of OpJapan, a loosely-organized Japanese offshoot of Anonymous, picked up litter in Shibuya, Tokyo. The demonstration was held in order to draw attention to Japan's revised copyright law, which criminalizes illegal downloading.

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Anonymous is branching out. This rainy morning in Tokyo, 50 or so masked men and women are converging on Miyashita Park, garbage bags in hand, to join Operation Japan’s Anonymous Cleaning Service — picking up litter in one of the city's busiest districts in equal parts public service, protest, and PR campaign. The event is the Japanese group’s first public demonstration, and it’s using the occasion to speak out against recently-passed revisions to the country's copyright law. The changes criminalize illegal downloading, and would see Japanese ISPs begin monitoring internet traffic for suspicious activity. Today's event follows a series of DDoS attacks last week on the websites of the country’s two major political parties, various government ministries, JASRAC (Japan’s equivalent to ASCAP), and the Japanese supreme court.

A lot of people disagree with the DDoS attacks

"We’re not saying we want the government to let people engage in so-called illegal downloading. But we are opposed to the incursions on freedom of information and online privacy that the criminalization of illegal downloading would bring," said a member taking questions from the media. A second participant pointed out that many in attendance were opposed to the DDoS attacks, not just because they thought they were ineffective, but because they "got in the way of people doing their work." He later added, "among the Japanese-speaking Anonymous, a lot of people think that the attacks are bad, which is why we were able to put together this kind of peaceful demonstration so quickly."

Not long after the scheduled 10 o’clock start, the masked crowd got into action, setting loose on the city streets amid confused looks from Saturday morning shoppers. Some younger members weren't sure about what to consider garbage, beginning to stuff their bags with the possessions of homeless sleeping in the area before picking up on the murmuring in the crowd. While a few non-Japanese and some elder statesmen were in attendance, most of the participants appeared to be in their teens and early 20s.

Members say they're aligned with the goals of Anonymous at large

In the end, Shibuya's already clean streets got an extra once-over, and OpJapan got its message out to a group of journalists and bloggers that nearly outnumbered it. It’s clear that the Guy Fawkes mask and internet feedback loop drummed up a lot more attention than the protest would have otherwise garnered in a city of 40 million, but that's not to say there aren't serious issues at stake. The prospect of going to jail for "just one click" is driving a number of Japan’s youth onto the Japanese Anonymous IRC channel — a "huge increase" said one member. And while DDoS's relative lack of popularity within OpJapan contrasts noticeably with many of the group's overseas counterparts, members say they're aligned with what they see as the goals of Anonymous at large — freedom of online information, and the protection of privacy. "There might be people that say we just look like Anonymous. Our origin is different, but we actually have a lot in common."

Sam Byford contributed to this report

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