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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Is Gov't listening to public worries?

October 15, 2014

ANALYSIS: Government fails to address public concerns about state secrets law


By RYOTA KYUKI/ Staff Writer

Public criticism and fears were expressed when the government took steps to listen to the voice of the people after the Diet enacted the state secrets protection law in December 2013.

However, the law’s operating guidelines approved by the Abe Cabinet on Oct. 14 have done little to dispel suspicions that the government will use the legislation to conceal “inconvenient” information at the expense of the people’s right to know.

The law is now scheduled to take effect in December, yet questions remain over the standards for designating state secrets while doubts persist about the oversight body’s authority to check whether state secret designations will be made appropriately.

For example, the guidelines define 55 items that would be considered state secrets. However, the wording for those items is vague, such as “intelligence gathering by the Self Defense Forces” and “securing peace and security for the international community.”

Although some information must certainly be designated as secret from a national security standpoint, it will ultimately be the government that decides what specifically constitutes a state secret.

And when the government is making such decisions, the public will be kept in the dark on the process and will not know what was actually designated as a state secret.

The government will appoint an “independent public document inspector” to serve in an oversight role. But the inspector will not be a third-party source. The post will be established within the Cabinet Office, raising doubts about the independence of the inspector.

The inspector’s authority is also an issue. Even if the inspector asks a Cabinet minister to submit a state secret for screening, the minister can reject the request by saying the release of the information could cause significant damage to Japan’s national security.

Another area of concern is that civil servants and private-sector company employees will be evaluated to determine if they are fit to handle state secrets. The evaluations will look into the psychological problems and criminal records of those individuals.

The Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology submitted a public comment criticizing those evaluations as a violation of human rights. The organization said there is no causal relationship between psychological problems and the likelihood of leaking state secrets.

Those concerns were never taken into consideration in discussions on the law’s guidelines.

The government decided the state secrets protection law will go into effect on Dec. 10, keeping with the law’s provision that it take effect within a year after promulgation.

The law will impose strict penalties, including prison terms, against individuals who reveal such state secrets and those who solicit such information leaks.

If the law is allowed to take effect as it now stands, there is a danger that the people’s right to know and freedom of the press, two foundations of a democratic society, will be violated.

The public must continue monitoring the government on a number of fronts.

One such issue is the type of individual chosen as an independent public document inspector. The public should ask whether the inspector can remain independent of the government and whether a sufficient oversight function is in place to ensure that the people’s right to know is not being violated.

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