The Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner New Komeito have agreed separately with the major opposition parties Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party on modifications of a bill aimed at strengthening the protection of specially designated state secrets. The bill is intended to stiffen penalties for public servants who leak such information.
This legal arrangement is essential for the envisioned Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, which will serve as the headquarters for Japan’s security strategy, to function well. The ruling coalition was right to discuss the matter over and over with the opposition parties without forcing its way with its dominant number of lawmakers.
If Ishin no Kai and Your Party take office, they will also have to designate such secrets and rescind the designations. Thus, it is important that both ruling and opposition parties work together to create the system.
The modifications are designed to enhance information management by the Cabinet through such measures as allowing the prime minister to supervise the secrecy designations and report them to a panel of experts to seek their opinions. The revisions also call for ministries and agencies to lose the authorization to make such designations if they do not exercise it within five years after the secrecy protection law takes effect.
The bill initially stipulated that the period of confidentiality would be up to five years and would be renewable, and that the period could be extended to 30 years or longer with Cabinet approval. However, a stipulation that the period cannot exceed 60 years has been added to the revised bill. Exceptions for this are limited to highly sensitive information in seven categories, such as secret codes, defense equipment and information sources.
The revised bill also stipulates that all the documents not designated as secrets beyond 30 years should be transferred to the National Archives of Japan.
Revisions ease some concerns
It is questionable whether the prime minister’s intended greater role will prove workable. However, it appears to be appropriate that the revised bill stipulates specially classified secrets will eventually be made public “in principle” while referring to exceptions and a system to archive key government documents.
To some extent, the modifications likely will dispel concerns that the government may arbitrarily increase the subjects for designation as secrets and permanently conceal information inconvenient to it from the public.
The ruling parties have also included a supplemental provision in the bill that calls on the government to consider setting up a third-party body to check the appropriateness of the designations.
We understand that this provision is meant to keep the government in check by a third party. But questions have been raised over whether outsiders would be able to make appropriate decisions considering the massive amount of highly sensitive information that affects national security. If more people gain access to such secrets, the risk of leaks is expected to rise.
Unless the composition of the panel and how it will work are determined carefully, such a body could become a mere facade.
The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, has decided to oppose the secret protection bill unless the ruling parties accept its proposals.
The DPJ proposes a narrower scope of specially classified secrets and sets the period of confidentiality at 30 years in principle. It also seeks a penalty of imprisonment of less than five years for violators of the law. As for the provision of such state secrets to the Diet, the DPJ says it would address the issue by amending the Diet Law. Such proposals are worth considering.
Both ruling and opposition parties are urged to make efforts to deepen discussions on the matter.