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2013年12月 8日 (日)

秘密保護法成立 国家安保戦略の深化につなげよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun December 8, 2013
Make use of intelligence protection law to strengthen national security strategy
秘密保護法成立 国家安保戦略の深化につなげよ(12月7日付・読売社説)


A law to protect state secrets, comparable to those in other advanced countries, has finally been enacted in Japan.

The government must use the law to strengthen diplomatic and national security policies. At the same time, it should pay special attention in applying the law, so the general public does not feel as if its right to know will be limited.

The specially designated intelligence protection law, which strengthens punishments of public employees who leak classified information concerning national security, was enacted after a bill on the law passed a House of Councillors plenary session late Friday, with a majority of votes by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

With the ruling and opposition parties in fierce confrontation over the bill, members of Your Party—which agreed to passage of the bill in the House of Representatives—walked out of the plenary session, criticizing the ruling camp’s way of managing Diet business as “high-handed.” We regret that this extremely important law was born in such unusual circumstances.

Unified rules clarified

As epitomized by China’s recent declaration of an air defense identification zone, the national security environment surrounding Japan has become increasingly severe.

Japan needs to obtain important intelligence on the matter from the United States and other countries and must strengthen its cooperation with them. To do so, it is indispensable to enhance the credibility of its efforts to protect secret information.

Japan already had rules in place to protect state secrets, including obligations for public officials to protect secrets under the National Civil Service Law, rules for special defense secrets in line with the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement of 1954, and another set of rules for defense secrets under the Self-Defense Forces Law revised in 2001.

However, these rules have not adequately protected important intelligence, and it has been pointed out that intelligence is easily leaked in Japan. With the new law, unified and full-fledged rules covering the entire government have been put in place to protect state secrets concerning defense, diplomacy and anti-espionage and antiterrorism activities.

The Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council was launched Wednesday. To enhance the council’s intelligence gathering and analysis abilities, the new law is indispensable.

However, the legislative intent of the law, which is to protect the Japanese people, has been made light of by some people.

We were surprised that during Diet deliberations on the bill some opposition party members criticized the legislation, even comparing it to the prewar public order maintenance law, which was used to clamp down on ideological criminals. That is an extremely irrational opinion that ignores Japan’s postwar history as a democratic nation as well as changes in the political system and media coverage.

In answer to a question during Diet deliberations on the bill, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “The general public won’t have access to specially designated secrets, so prosecution of citizens under the law won’t be possible.” As he said, ordinary citizens will not be subject to the law.

Yet, it cannot be denied that the people’s distrust of the government increased through the deliberations of the bill. The government must explain the intent of the secret intelligence protection law carefully to the people and seek their understanding.

Through discussions between the ruling parties and the opposition parties Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party, the range of subjects that can be designated as special secrets was narrowed further, and the principles for disclosing them after they are declassified was made clear. This is praiseworthy.

Concern over right to know

The biggest point of contention in the upper house deliberations was whether bureaucrats would arbitrarily expand the range of secrecy.

Abe pledged to establish a third-party surveillance committee to check the validity of confidentiality designations. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also mentioned that an information oversight office with about 20 members will be established in the Cabinet Office. These appear to be the results of concessions made by the government thus far.

It is essential that the proposed third-party organ be equipped with functional capabilities. Due heed must especially be taken of the public’s strong concern about secrets handled by such organizations as the National Police Agency and the Public Security Investigation Agency, which are involved in dealing with terrorism and espionage activities.

The Democratic Party of Japan has maintained that a third-party body, if established within the government, would be unable to perform its functions. However, it is doubtful whether a third-party committee comprising experts nominated by both the ruling and opposition parties, as proposed by the DPJ, would be able to adequately judge the secrecy of information.

High-level judgments on how to handle highly confidential state secrets can be made only in light of government policy and national strategy. We thus believe an oversight body established within the government is desirable in view of the high risk of an information leak.

The biggest concern is whether government employees will become apprehensive about answering questions from the media out of fear of severe punishment, namely up to 10 years in prison imposed on people who violate the secrecy law. They also might use the law as an excuse to hide information.

Due to such overreaction to the Personal Information Protection Law, it is already difficult to share even information that needs to be shared for the good of society. This trend should not be accelerated.

Concrete steps needed

The law calls for highly confidential state secrets to be disclosed in principle after 30 years of secrecy designation. An extension of up to 60 years will be allowed, with a few exceptions. Concrete measures, such as how to disclose or destroy documents after the secrecy period ends, have been left up in the air.

There are also problems related to the freedom of information system that is supposed to be linked with the protection of secrets. The current system makes it difficult for people to access information because of the narrow range of disclosure.

Unless the system is changed to allow judges to see relevant documents in the event of a lawsuit filed over highly confidential secrets, the courts will be unable to fulfill their roles.

The Diet’s role also needs to be discussed. The ruling and opposition parties must deepen discussions on how to steer closed-door meetings in which highly confidential state secrets are provided, and how to relate such meetings to parliamentary rights to investigate state affairs.

The law will take effect within a year after its promulgation. We urge the ruling and opposition camps to hold consultations to improve the legal system regarding secrets.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 7, 2013)
(2013年12月7日01時42分  読売新聞)


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