The government approved at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday guidelines on the classification and declassification of special state secrets as well as related ordinances, including one that formally puts into force the law on the protection of specially designated state secrets with effect from Dec. 10.
The guidelines stipulate that the public’s right to know should be fully respected. They also ban broader interpretation of state secret classifications, or the designation of illegal acts committed by administrative authorities as state secrets.
The guidelines incorporate a provision that they will be subject to a review five years after the state secrecy law comes into force on Dec. 10.
The guidelines say “the public’s right to know should be fully respected as it is linked to the existence of a democratic society,” adding that the government should give full consideration to freedom of the press and news coverage.
The law limits specially designated state secrets to information concerning four fields — defense, diplomacy, anti-espionage and antiterrorism measures. The guidelines on the handling of specially designated state secrets refine that information into 55 categories. The guidelines stipulate that the government will “designate the minimum amount of information as secret for the shortest period of time possible.”
Because of concern over possible attempts by administrative organizations to conceal “inconvenient” information, the guidelines stipulate that the designation of illegal acts committed by them as state secrets, or the designation of information as state secrets for the purpose of covering up such activities, must be banned.
Also, the government will establish a new post of “independent archive management official” at the deputy-director-general level in the Cabinet Office as well as a channel for whistleblowers to report wrongdoing related to state secrets.
Under another ordinance approved Tuesday, administrative organizations with authorization to designate state secrets will be limited to 19 organizations, including the Cabinet Secretariat, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Council.
The guidelines and ordinances were discussed at the government’s advisory panel on the protection of sensitive information, which is chaired by Tsuneo Watanabe, chairman of the board and editor-in-chief of The Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings. Public opinions were partly reflected in the drawing up of the guidelines and ordinances.
Key points of guidelines
■ The public’s right to know should be fully respected.
■ The government will designate the minimum amount of information as secret for the shortest period of time possible.
■ Information that can be designated as a state secret is refined into 55 categories, and broader interpretations of state secret classifications must be banned.
■ Designating illegal acts committed by administrative authorities as state secrets must be banned.
■ A new post of “independent archive management official” will be established to examine possible wrongdoing related to state secrets. A channel for whistleblowers to report wrongdoing will also be established.