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2013年11月 9日 (土)

秘密保護法案 後世の検証が可能な仕組みに

The Yomiuri Shimbun November 9, 2013
Establish framework to guarantee posterity can verify validity of ‘secrets’
秘密保護法案 後世の検証が可能な仕組みに(11月8日付・読売社説)


Classified information related to the nation’s security that could affect the survival of this country must certainly be protected. It is very important to establish a solid legal system to protect information while also paying due attention to the people’s right to know.

Diet deliberations started Thursday on a bill to ensure protection of specially designated state secrets.

Under the proposed legislation, the government will designate information that is believed to require especially high confidentiality as “special secrets” in the four fields of defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism. The envisaged law allows for harsher punishment of public servants who leak such secrets.

Key to security strategy

The aim of the bill is to ensure the creation of a structure that will prevent important information related to the country’s security from being casually divulged.

The situation surrounding Japan is increasingly severe, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development programs and moves by China to augment its arsenal.

To ensure the nation’s peace and security, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been seeking to establish a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council as a control tower for the government’s diplomatic and security policies.

A bill to launch the Japanese NSC passed a plenary session of the House of Representatives on Thursday.

For the Japanese NSC to function properly, it is indispensable for it to share important information with Japan’s allies and other friendly countries.

All countries will be understandably reluctant to provide information to another nation where there are fears that classified information will be leaked. In this regard, the special secrets protection law will be of great significance in improving the mutual trust between Japan and allies, such as the United States.

According to the government-submitted bill, the designation and lifting of the special secrets classification will be conducted by “chiefs of relevant organs of government administration,” such as the defense minister and foreign minister. This can be safely called an adequate arrangement, as decisions involving secrets must be made from a comprehensive point of view based on national strategy and national interests.

Situations must be avoided, however, in which ministries and agencies designate information as special secrets only to conceal information that is detrimental to their interests.

The bill calls for the government to establish a set of operational standards for designating and lifting the special secrets classification, by holding hearings to listen to opinions from experts. The envisioned standards must be used as criteria for not expanding the scope of secrets more than necessary.

Prevent arbitrary operation

Some have expressed concern that designated secrets will be kept confidential permanently, and never be disclosed to the public.

The bill sets the period for the designation of special secrets at a maximum of five years, stipulating designated secrets should be disclosed when confidentiality becomes unnecessary. However, the legislation also allows the government to extend the confidentiality period, and secrets could be kept undisclosed for 30 years or longer, depending on approval by the Cabinet.

Secrets should be made public as a matter of principle after the passage of a certain period of time, to make it possible for posterity to verify the validity of the secrets’ designation.

If secrets are publicly disclosed in the future, we believe concerns about administrative organs arbitrarily classifying information as special secrets can be eliminated for the most part.

There could of course be highly confidential state secrets that are difficult to disclose even in the future. The government is examining the requirements for extending the designation of such secrets beyond 30 years. Included in this category are secret codes and weapons used by the Self-Defense Forces.

Extreme care must also be taken with information provided by other countries.

Another challenge is the preservation and administration of documents.

The Public Records and Archives Management Law calls for setting a preservation period for all administrative documents. The law also makes it mandatory to transfer documents with historical value and significance to the National Archives of Japan and obtain the prime minister’s approval if such documents are to be destroyed.

Currently, however, defense secrets kept under the Self-Defense Forces Law are excluded from the Public Records and Archives Management Law. Over a five-year period up until 2011, about 30,000 items containing defense secrets that had exceeded their mandatory period of preservation were destroyed at the discretion of senior Defense Ministry officials.

If the secret protection bill is enacted, defense secrets will be included among special secrets. So it was appropriate that Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera issued an order not to destroy defense secrets until the secret protection law is enforced.

Special secrets also should be administered strictly under the Public Records and Archives Management Law.

Public’s right to know

Fulfilling responsibilities to the people is a natural obligation of the government of a democratic country.

Concerns about the bill possibly interfering with the people’s right to know were expressed even by ruling party members during a plenary session of the lower house Thursday.


As a result of negotiations between the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito, the bill was modified to add a statement that consideration should be given to freedom of news coverage and reporting. Concerning news gathering activities by the media, the bill stipulates that they are “regarded as legitimate practice, as long as they are not illegal or excessively unjust,” thus excluding any criminal charge against them in principle.

However, public servants would be subject to punishment if they leak special secrets. The bill calls for up to 10 years in prison for violators, which is far stricter than the maximum of one year under the National Civil Service Law and the maximum of five years under the SDF law.

There is concern that public servants will not comply with interview requests due to fear of punishment, thereby making it impossible for the media to provide information that the public needs to know. We urge the ruling and opposition parties to deepen discussions about whether they can prevent such a situation.

Debate on how the Diet will be involved in dealing with special secrets also cannot be overlooked.

The bill would allow for the communication of secrets to Diet committee members, among others, on condition that they hold closed-door sessions. Whether to provide secrets would be decided by the head of the administrative organization.

Is it appropriate for lawmakers to decide on the future course of the nation without knowing important information on national security? The legislature might not be able to conduct proper oversight of the administration. The Diet must study a system under which it can share secrets.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 8, 2013)
(2013年11月8日01時50分  読売新聞)


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