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HOME  > Past issues  > 2013 October 30 - November 5  > What the secrets protection bill is all about
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2013 October 30 - November 5 TOP3 [POLITICS]

What the secrets protection bill is all about

October 27, 2013
The United States wiretaps the cellphone of even the chancellor of Germany. The Abe Cabinet, in order to receive military information from the U.S., submitted to the Diet a bill to punish anyone who leaks secret information, the secrets protection bill. It covers information pertaining to foreign affairs, national defense, nuclear power generation, and many other categories. The bill, if enacted, will impact our daily lives. What kinds of dangers will this produce? Akahata on October 27 reported on this issue.

What will be deemed ‘secret’

The bill the Abe government is pushing for immediate enactment will turn Japan into a nation capable of going to wars abroad with the United States. Rather than ensuring the public safety, the bill will infringe on fundamental human rights by not allowing the general public access to “classified” information.

Under the bill, the public will not have the right to know what types of information are being kept secret. Without knowing whether or not the information they seek to obtain is designated as “secret”, they will be punished. The general public will be kept in the dark of government war plans.

The bill suggests that information regarding national defense, diplomacy, prevention of specified harmful activities, and terrorism prevention will be categorized as confidential.

However, the scope of secrecy is very ambiguous. In the category of defense, for example, the bill includes operations, equipment, facilities, and various matters of the Self-Defense Forces as classified. In the category of specified harmful activities, it includes the export and import of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, rockets and missiles, and unmanned aircraft and fighters. A legal expert warns, “It would be equivalent to declaring that Japan is going to possess nuclear weapons.”

Only high-ranking officials such as the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, and Director-General of the National Police Agency can designate specific information as secret. They will be able to expand the scope of secret information arbitrarily.

Information designated as confidential will be kept secret for five years. The renewal or the extension of the period of secrecy is without limits. It will be possible to keep information secret for more than 30 years with Cabinet approval. On top of that, the Cabinet Information Research Office which is responsible for the bill explained that it will classify information regarding the disposal of documents or renewal of secret lists.

Government employees and government contractors who leak state secrets will face imprisonment of up to ten years. Anyone who obtains specified secrets while contacting or exchanging information between ministries and agencies can also receive a maximum of 5-year prison sentence. Those who attempt to leak information or even leak information by mistake will face punishment as well.

In addition, the bill restricts the investigative right of the National Diet, the highest organ of state power.

To turn Japan into war-fighting nation

As Prime Minister Abe referred to it as a way to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance during his meeting with U.S. President Obama, the secrets protection bill is part of his endeavor to enable Japan to fight wars abroad together with the U.S.

The Liberal Democratic Party last year compiled an outline of a fundamental law on national security which would allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. Together with a bill to set up a National Security Council, the secrets protection bill, if enacted, will fall under this fundamental law.

The ruling party’s ultimate goal is to revise Article 9 of the Constitution and to establish a national army as was pledged in the latest Lower House and Upper House elections. However, facing increasing public opposition to the moves for constitutional revision, Abe had to shift his strategy from seeking the revision of Article 9 to changing the government’s constitutional interpretation so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense without revision. What Abe is attempting to accomplish is to install a legislative system necessary to operate a “war-fighting nation” before amending the Supreme Law. This strategy goes against the very notion of constitutionalism.

The establishment of a secrets protection law has been repeatedly called for not by Japanese citizens but by the United States. In 2005, the two countries agreed to share military information and strategy at all levels from their troops on the ground to national leaders. At the same time, the U.S. side urged Japan to take additional measures to prevent U.S. information from being leaked.

In 2003, the U.S. and Britain began their war against Iraq by groundlessly arguing that the country possesses weapons of mass destruction. This indicates how dangerous it is for Japan to allow U.S. military information to determine its course of action.

Incompatible with people’s right to know

Through their negotiations for “rewriting” the secrets bill, the government and the ruling coalition agreed to include the following phrase: the freedom of the press to report and cover news that contribute to citizens’ right to know must be given sufficient consideration (Clause 1 of Article 21).

This sentence would not work to “guarantee” the freedom of the press as it only states that such freedom will be “considered”.

Not only that, the second clause of the same article leaves the possibility for press coverage to be punished if authorities recognize it as “unjust” or “against the law”.

People’s right to know resides with each citizen in order to guarantee their access to the information they need. The secrets protection bill could undermine this fundamental right.

Even Diet members may be sent to jail

According to the bill, the Diet, the highest organ of state power, is put under the jurisdiction of administrative authorities.

The bill states that secret information is provided to Diet members only at “secret meetings” in the Diet. If parliamentarians leak classified information, they will be sentenced to five years in jail.

Lawmakers who attended a secret meeting can neither talk to other members of their parties nor ask for advice from experts about the information. It will place severe restrictions on parliamentary proceedings.

The measure also states that when state authorities judge that the disclosure of classified information could affect national security, they are allowed to not provide such information to lawmakers even in closed-door meetings in the Diet. In other words, it will be up to bureaucratic administration officials whether parliamentarians can obtain classified information.

The Diet, representing the people, has a role of monitoring the administration. Article 62 of the Constitution guarantees Lower and Upper House members the right to investigate matters of government. Exercising this right, minority parties can give representation to the public’s right to know through questioning and criticizing parties in power.

The secrets protection bill turns lawmakers’ administrative investigation rights into a mere charade and will help to create a despotic regime in which the state bureaucracy places the Diet under its highly secretive control.

People can suddenly be arrested without reason

Persons who happened to get some state information may be arrested or face a search of their houses as the public is unable to determine what kinds of matter are classified as “special secrets” under the law.

If someone posts to his blog a picture of a fighter jet which he took from outside an SDF base or provide detailed explanation of a surface-to-air missile displayed at an SDF’s public event, that person may be charged with information leakage.

The Cabinet Information Research Office which is in charge of the bill stresses that the leaks of secret information on the Internet are “irreparable”. The bill stipulates that those who gain access to special secrets or undermine the control of those secrets will be sentenced to imprisonment of up to 10 years.

Japan’s legal system already has the Unauthorized Computer Access Law, with a maximum penalty of imprisonment of up to three years. The fact that the draft law includes stricter penal provisions for illegal access to special secrets shows that the government intends to more severely regulate attempts to obtain information. At present, the Legislative Council of the Justice Ministry is discussing the revision of the Wiretapping Law, considering the expansion of coverage and the legalization of planting bugging devices.

If the bill becomes law, it will be entirely up to administrative and investigating authorities to decide what acts will be regarded as “illegal access”.

Information regarding nuclear power plants to be designated as ‘specific secrets’

People could be criminally charged and receive punishment for taking a picture of a nuclear power plant and tweeting about the plant, if the state secrets bill enacted.

This is because under the guise of preventing terrorism, the bill would classify as secret the locations of nuclear power plants and information possessed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority and the nuclear regulatory agency. It is highly possible that information about radioactive water leakage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant will be concealed from the public.

The Cabinet Information Research Office admitted that nuclear power plant-related information could be regarded as ‘specific secret’

On March 11, 2011, after the massive quake hit the Fukushima power plant, a meltdown occurred within 16 hours at the No.1 nuclear reactor. Two months later, the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, admitted to this fact.

Although the government obtained data regarding the extent of radioactive substances released just after the nuclear disaster, it provided the data only to the U.S. Forces in Japan while keeping this information hidden from the people of Fukushima and the rest of Japan. This caused extensive avoidable exposure to radiation of Fukushima evacuees who took shelter in areas where the government data showed high levels of radiation.

Even now, the government is showing a reluctance to disclose state information. Enactment of the bill will work to completely hide from the general public information that could be vital to them.

Street campaigns demanding access to information will be criminalized

Under the state secret bill, if a person attempts to seek information from a person who handles “specific secret”, he/she will be charged. Even if the attempt fails, the person will be charged for plotting, abetting, and inciting secret leakage.

Taking as an example a civil group’s street campaign demanding access to government information at the government office district of Kasumigaseki, a group member who used a microphone to urge the government to provide information can be arrested for encouraging government employees to leak secrets, and other members will be investigated on a charge of conspiracy.

The bill even regards news reporters’ activities as subject to criminal prosecution for inciting the leakage of state secret.

If a news reporter visits a government official’s home in order to obtain information about government policies, the reporter can be accused of criminal conduct and his/her boss will be charged for abetting the collection of secret information.

The bill states that it acknowledges as “allowable” news-gathering activities other than those activities which violate laws and are carried out in an extremely aggressive manner, as if it guarantees the freedom of the press.

Lawyer Inoue Masanobu, vice director of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations’ task force on state secrets bill, pointed out, “Media people’s access to state secrets during their news-gathering activities could be regarded as a ‘crime’ of obtaining ‘specific secrets’. Law enforcement authorities and courts will decide whether media activities are ‘permissible’ or not. Even if the media win a judicial decision recognizing their activities as proper, they will receive a heavy blow due to the seizure of reporters’ personal computers and mobile phones in home searches.”

Even families and friends may be put under surveillance

If the secrets protection bill becomes law, both a worker at a supplier to the SDF and his/her family members may be put under government surveillance.

Under the pretext of determining whether an employee is suitable for the job, the authority can thoroughly investigate public and private employees who are in a position to handle information designated as “specific secrets” in order to find out if they are likely to leak information.

Through the process of the investigation, the government collects personal information such as their address, date of birth, criminal record, record of travel abroad, condition of mental health, drinking habit, and amount of debt and income. This is a clear violation of human rights as well as an invasion of privacy.

Targets of personal data collection include not only the workers themselves, but also their relatives, family members of their spouses, and anybody living with them.

In advance of the enactment of the secrets protection bill, the government already in 2009 established a system to investigate state officials to see if they are fit to handle classified information.

Akahata obtained a questionnaire for SDF personnel which asks for detailed personal information based on a list of 19 items, including their thoughts and beliefs. The required information even covers the occupation and workplaces of their friends and the extent of their relationships with them.

The collected data is checked by the SDF intelligence security unit whose main duty is to monitor citizens’ movements such as involvement in peace demonstrations. The Sendai District Court recognized the SDF’s public monitoring activities as illegal.

The secrets protection bill, if enacted, will allow authorities such as the SDF intelligence security unit and the security police to increase their unlawful surveillance activities, which will lead to the further infringement of basic human rights in Japan.

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