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460,000 documents may become "special secrets"

November 30, 2014

Under new law, about 460,000 documents likely to be called ‘special secrets’



The government will likely designate around 460,000 documents as “special secrets” deemed highly sensitive in the areas of diplomacy, defense, counterterrorism and counterespionage after a state secrecy law takes effects on Dec. 10, a Kyodo News survey covering 19 government offices showed Sunday.

The documents are currently considered as highly confidential state secrets in the area of national security and diplomacy based on a 2007 government guideline, with the Cabinet Secretariat keeping the largest portion of around 353,000 items as of late last year.

Signaling the opaqueness of the new system aimed at toughening penalties on leakers of secrets, only three of the 19 government offices provided concrete answers regarding how much information they plan to label as “specially designated secrets” when the secrecy law takes effect.

Others said they are still “considering” the matter or “refraining from answering” just weeks before the entry into force of the controversial law that has triggered concern that the public’s right to know will be undermined.

But it is believed the 460,000 documents currently deemed highly confidential will be treated as special secrets under the new law.

Many offices did not answer questions on issues such as which section will be in charge of dealing with whistle-blowers who have suspicions about the arbitrary classification of state secrets by the government in violation of the secrecy law.

Kyodo News asked the 19 government offices in mid-November to respond to its questionnaire and received answers by Nov. 25.

In addition to the Cabinet Secretariat, the Foreign Ministry had 21,826 documents deemed as secrets requiring special control as of late last year, the Public Security Intelligence Agency had 15,292 documents and the National Police Agency had 13,951 documents.

The Defense Ministry, which has its own system to control secrets, kept about 45,000 documents categorized as secrets.

The Finance Ministry and the Financial Services Agency said they would not designate any documents as special secrets under the secrecy law on their own, as they would share such secrets designated by other government bodies through budgetary requests and other sessions.

The Cabinet Office said it might have one document related to defense issues that could be designated as a special secret.

Asked whether current secrets will be labeled as special secrets under the new law, the Foreign Ministry said it will “narrow down” the items and “newly add” other documents.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said “nearly all” the documents currently categorized as secrets will also be treated as secrets under the new system.

The Cabinet Office, meanwhile, said that it might add other information as special secrets.

Yukiko Miki, the head of nonprofit organization Access-Info Clearinghouse Japan, said she senses “excessive secretiveness” in the government offices as it is difficult to imagine that the contact point for whistle-blowers or other details have not yet been decided at this point.

It makes me worry that the information disclosure level of each government office after the secrecy law takes effect might be very low. If information is not substantially disclosed, it is impossible to check whether the law is being implemented appropriately,” she said.

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