Specific Secret Protection Law: What is secret?-that is secret

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Specific Secret Protection Law: What is secret?—that is secret

Osamu Takeuchi, S.J.

The Japanese Diet passed the specific secret protection law on December 13, 2013.  This is a most unusually bad law.  “Over 80 percent of respondents to a Kyodo News Service poll called for dumping or rewriting it, and a recent protest drew 10,000 demonstrators.”[1]

Prime Minister Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party also created an American-style National Security Council.  Abe also plans to revise the Constitution, even though he does not know what the Constitution is or for whom it exists.

The government can classify information as state secret under four designated categories: defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism.  A total of about 400,000 secrets will be protected by this law.  The definition of what qualifies to be a state secret is vague and dangerously broad.

People in Japan ought to have “the right to know.”  We must make certain that the government guarantees the public’s right to know through the freedom of the press, and a transparent system whereby authorities answerable to the citizens of Japan monitor the process of designating protected secrets.  The example of Japan leading up to World War II illustrates the dangers of the lack of such safeguards.

There are several crucial problems:

1. Arbitrariness

The government can specify as secret any information it chooses.  The authority to specify what is to be secret is given to the Cabinet, particularly the Defense Minister and the Director of the National Police Agency.  However, there is no the “third party” to check the need for any piece of information to be kept secret.  There is no organization to carry out independent supervision of the actions.

 2. Permanent seal

Documents secret will be locked away for up to 60 years by bureaucrats.  The state secrecy law is to be valid for five years and can be extended for a further five-year period.  As the law designating the range of information to be kept secret includes the words “and others” thirty-six times, there is a danger that the scope secret information will grow.

3. Privacy

Not all public officials will have access to any specified secret.  Only persons who have cleared security evaluation against leaking information will have access.  This should prevent the leaking of confidential information.  The evaluation is to be applied not only to public officials but also to private suppliers.  Criteria include, not only economic conditions, including the presence or absence of debt, but also the nationality of the individual and the individual’s family.  This is a violation of the right to privacy.

4. Punishment

“The penalties for violators are harsh: 10 years in prison for civil servants who leak classified information; five years for citizens convicted of abetting leaks.”[2]


[1] Lucy Craft, “Japan’s State Secrets Law: Hailed By U.S., Denounced By Japanese,” Parallels, December 31, 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/12/31/258655342/japans-state-secrets-law-hailed-by-u-s-denounced-by-japanese 
[2] Ibid.

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