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State secrets law - Independent supervisor?

December 11, 2014

News Navigator: What is the position created for supervision of the state secrecy law?


A new independent post at the deputy vice-ministerial level has been established for managing public documents as the controversial Act on the Specially Designated Secrets came into effect on Dec. 10. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the new position.

Question: What is this new administrative position all about?

Answer: It's an independent position at the Cabinet Office for managing public documents, called independent public records management secretary. "Special state secrets" will be designated from a certain area of information, but what becomes secret and what doesn't cannot always be clear-cut. Government agencies may hide information they don't want to disclose. Such an issue was brought up at a Diet session last fall, and right before the enactment of the state secrets protection bill, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government would set up in-house watchdog organizations.

One of the supervisory bodies, the Information Security Oversight Division, made up of 20 staff members, was set up at the Cabinet Office, and the post of public records management secretary was established as the supervisor for the division.

Q: What are the roles of the secretary for managing public documents?

A: The appointed person is in charge of making sure that special state secrets do not include information that should not be kept secret. The Information Security Oversight Division will receive summary lists on state secrets from ministries and agencies to check, and the public records secretary will have the authority to request classified documents, demand declassification and conduct on-site investigations at ministries and agencies if necessary.

In addition, each ministry and agency will report to the secretary on the number of classified and declassified documents once a year. The public records secretary can investigate ministries and agencies in response to whistle-blowing.

Q: What are some concerns about the function of the information oversight system?

A: Questions remain about whether the public records secretary will have the opportunity to conduct investigations. The summary lists will have data such as the designation date and the designation term of state secrets, but will not include contents of classified documents. Furthermore, even if the secretary demands ministries and agencies present documents, they may refuse to comply if they decide that such information may pose a major threat to national security.

Q: Who was appointed to the new post?

A: A 52-year-old bureaucrat from the Justice Ministry has been assigned as the first public records management secretary. Experts believe that the person who is appointed to the secretary position is best not to return to their ministry or agency to maintain job independence. Some sources in the judicial circles have voiced concerns about the appointment, however, as the bureaucrat still have some time until his retirement age, and he might hold back his authority against the Justice Ministry or investigative agencies. (Answers by Ken Aoshima, Tokyo City News Department)

December 11, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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