EDITORIAL: Secrets protection bill should not infringe on the people’s rights

August 26, 2013

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has been moving toward the establishment of a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, plans to submit a state secrets protection bill to an extraordinary Diet session this autumn to strengthen information control.

According to the bill, information that could seriously compromise Japan’s security in such areas as “defense,” “diplomacy” and “prevention of terrorist activities” would be designated as “specific secrets.”

Central government employees that leak such information are likely to face up to 10 years in prison, a much heavier sentence than the one-year maximum for those who committed conventional breaches in confidentiality obligation under the National Public Service Law.

However, the state secrets protection bill has too many problems.

First of all, the scope of specific secrets is ambiguous.

The types of confidential information that are to be protected will be listed on an appendix to the bill. However, the listed information will consist of only basic items.

Those who designate certain information as specific secrets will be “heads of administrative organizations,” such as ministers or director-generals in charge of ministries or agencies. There is a possibility that they will issue designations in rapid succession.

They could even hide safety or radiation information pertaining to nuclear power plants if they judge that it could be used by terrorists. The government could also arbitrarily designate information to simply keep it from the public.

What cannot be overlooked in the bill is that anyone who asks central government employees to offer specific secrets could be subject to punishment on the grounds that they abetted the leakage of secrets.

This could limit activities of media organizations and, as a result, infringe on the people’s right to know.

The Abe administration is likely to incorporate a stipulation in the bill that would prohibit any violation of basic human rights that is based on extended interpretation of the bill. However, whether basic human rights were violated or not will be judged by the government. Therefore, we have to say that the workability of the stipulation is doubtful.

In 2010 a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japan Coast Guard vessels off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. At that time, video footage of the collision shot by the JCG staff was leaked. After the leakage, the government began considering steps to enact a state secrets protection bill.

In this day and age, it is necessary for the government to share information on terrorist activities or other issues with the U.S. government or among employees of the Japanese government. Therefore, it is a matter of course that the government makes utmost efforts to control information. However, the bill to be submitted to the Diet by the Abe administration allows the government too much discretion. There is concern that the government will become unchecked.

The current National Public Service Law imposes confidentiality obligations on central government employees. In the defense field, a certain state secrets protection system is already in place. What the government should do first is to strictly operate the law and the system.

A government expert panel concerning a state secrets protection bill compiled a report in 2011.

It read, “It cannot be said that there is no risk that the government will infringe on the people’s important rights and benefits if it makes a mistake in the operation of the law.”

The fact that such a rare warning was made apparently shows the danger of the bill.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 25

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Video footage shows a Chinese fishing boat, left, backing away from a Japan Coast Guard vessel after a collision near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in September 2010. The footage, shot by the JCG staff, was later leaked to the Internet. (From YouTube)

Video footage shows a Chinese fishing boat, left, backing away from a Japan Coast Guard vessel after a collision near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in September 2010. The footage, shot by the JCG staff, was later leaked to the Internet. (From YouTube)

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  • Video footage shows a Chinese fishing boat, left, backing away from a Japan Coast Guard vessel after a collision near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in September 2010. The footage, shot by the JCG staff, was later leaked to the Internet. (From YouTube)

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