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Japan: Guidelines Set to Check State Secrets Designation
Source: the-japan-news.com
Source Date: Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, Institution and HR Management, Internet Governance
Country: Japan
Created: Oct 21, 2014

The government aims to quickly establish organizations and systems to examine whether designations of specific pieces of information as state secrets are proper, ahead of the Dec. 10 enforcement of the law on the protection of specially designated secrets.

As there remain concerns that the public’s right to know may be infringed, the government wishes to obtain understanding of the public by taking the measures.

On Tuesday, the government gave Cabinet approval to guidelines and ordinances on how to apply the law.

At a press conference after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: “We have prepared systems to secure proper application of the law, such as a prohibition against designating information with the aim of concealment, and establishment of checking entities. We’ll carefully explain them to the public to eliminate people’s anxiety.”

Under the guidelines, the government prohibits expanded interpretation of the definition of specially designated secrets, and also vows to apply the law in a restrained manner.

As a basic concept, the guidelines stipulate: “The people’s right to know must be sufficiently respected,” and “Minimum necessary pieces of information shall be designated for the minimum necessary length of periods of time.”

Concerning administrative entities that will be authorized to designate state secrets, the range is limited to 19, such as the Cabinet Secretariat, the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.

The range of information to be designated as state secrets is limited to 55 categories in four fields — 19 categories in the defense field, 17 categories in the diplomatic field, 10 categories in the anti-spying field, and nine categories in the anti-terrorism field.

For example, information about drills and training activities of the Self-Defense Forces and codes for defense purposes can be designated as the state secrets.

As checking authorities, an entity provisionally named “the Committee for the Protection and Oversight,” which will comprise mainly administrative vice ministers from concerned ministries and agencies, will be established.

In the Cabinet Office, a councilor-level post which is provisionally titled “independent public records management secretary” will be created for the purpose.

Under the secretary and each of the ministries and agencies, channels to receive notices from internal whistle-blowers will be set up. This is because many citizens called for the establishment of an authority to check the state secret designations. The entities will examine whether classification and declassification of specially designated secrets are proper and will be able to demand corrective actions if problems are found.

The government will soon select candidates for independent public records management secretary and will begin preparations to establish an entity provisionally named “the Information Security Oversight Division.” The division will comprise about 20 officials and serve as the secretariat for the new secretary post.

Ministries and agencies are scheduled to implement training sessions for respective officials to examine their qualifications to handle state secrets and to make preparations to set up channels to receive whistle-blowers’ notices.

Members of the public presented 23,820 opinions about the guidelines. Regarding how to manage the law system, many voiced concerns that standards for designation as state secrets are opaque, and urged that checking authorities should be independent entities.

The opinions shed light on the fact that there is still anxiety over the law among the public.

Lawyers, citizens protest

In the wake of the Cabinet approval, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement on Tuesday that demanded abolition of the law, in the name of its president, Susumu Murakoshi.

The statement said: “There is not an assured legal system that can eventually make public the specially designated secrets. Thus there is a possibility that many of the specially designated secrets will be disposed of without being seen by members of the public.”

The statement demanded that the law be abolished and the government reconsider the issue.

About 20 citizens and lawyers who oppose the law held a protest rally in front of the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday. 

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