ANALYSIS: Abe offers reassurances, not safeguards, on state secrets law

December 10, 2013


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec. 9 promised citizens that their lives will not be affected by the state secrets protection law, but he failed to explain how this will be achieved.

Instead of announcing safeguards against possible abuse, Abe essentially asked the public to place trust in himself, the government and bureaucrats to do the right thing.

“Ordinary lives of people will never be threatened,” Abe told a news conference at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, a day after the extraordinary Diet session ended. “The existing scope of secrets will not be expanded.”

Abe mentioned media reports that said private citizens could face severe punishment by blogging about stories they hear from their friends, and that free creative activities, such as filmmaking, will be limited.

“But such things will never happen,” Abe said.

The law was enacted last week amid widespread protests from the public and opposition lawmakers that its vague wording could lead to arbitrary designations of state secrets of any information. Criticism was also lodged at the lack of any independent organization to oversee whether the designations are appropriate.

Abe acknowledged that his efforts to win public support for the bill were lacking.

“I think I should have taken more time to provide more detailed explanations,” Abe said. “From now on, I will explain carefully to erase people’s concerns.”

The prime minister and the ruling coalition were criticized as ignoring public opinion in their determination to railroad the bill through the Diet.

Abe said that move was needed for the good of Japan.

“It was necessary to enact (the law) as soon as possible, along with establishing the national security council, so that we can protect the lives and property of our citizens,” Abe said.

The state secrets protection law covers four areas: defense; diplomacy; prevention of spying and other harmful activities; and prevention of terrorism. Its purpose, ruling coalition officials say, is to prevent leaks of information that could jeopardize Japan’s national security.

“There have been no rules on how to handle specified secrets so far,” Abe explained.

The prime minister said the security situation surrounding Japan has become increasingly severe, referring to China’s new air defense identification zone that covers skies above the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

“If we failed to establish rules to manage secret information, we would not be able to gain information from foreign countries,” Abe said.

Abe added that rules will also be set for the disposal of classified information, pointing to ambiguities in the actions of the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan.

“The DPJ-led government disposed of 30,000 defense secrets in only three years,” Abe said. “It remains unknown why those secrets were discarded and who was responsible for that.”

The prime minister said the state secrets protection law “will dramatically enhance transparency and make clear the responsibility.”

However, Abe did not offer any new measures on how to ensure transparency, a key sticking point in arguments against the law.

The Abe administration has vowed to set up monitoring bodies to check the appropriateness of state secret designations. But those organizations will be established within the government, and bureaucrats--the same people with the power to designate state secrets--are expected to play a central role.

The prime minister also did not touch upon how much information will be kept secret after the law takes effect and for how long.

In addition, he did not explain how those authorized to handle state secrets will be selected and did not address the concerns about invasions of privacy in the process.

The new legislation stipulates that people in the private sector who leak state secrets could face up to 10 years in prison.

For private sector people allowed to manage state secrets, governmental agencies will be allowed to delve into their personal information, including drinking habits, loans and family members’ nationalities, after obtaining their consent.

Abe said he will make sure everything is on the up and up.

“The prime minister will be obligated to report to an information preservation advisory panel about (newly designated) specified secrets at least once a year, and the advisory panel will present its opinion to the Diet,” he said.

But under the law, even this advisory panel will not be allowed to investigate individual state secret designations.

The same day, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said it will be difficult to allow a body completely independent from the government to check the appropriateness of state secret designations.

“Political value judgments will be inevitably necessary,” Kato said on a TV program. “The government of the moment will make decisions from the perspective of national security.”

Although the legislation states that the new law will go into effect within a year, Abe did not give a definitive timeframe.

“I hope to enforce it at an appropriate time, after providing sufficient explanations,” he said.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says people's lives will not be threatened by the state secrets protection law at a news conference in Tokyo on Dec. 9. (Shogo Koshida)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says people's lives will not be threatened by the state secrets protection law at a news conference in Tokyo on Dec. 9. (Shogo Koshida)

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says people's lives will not be threatened by the state secrets protection law at a news conference in Tokyo on Dec. 9. (Shogo Koshida)

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