Japan’s Secrets Protection Law

Japan’s Secrets Protection Law
The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 51, No. 2, December 23, 2012.

Japan’s Designated Secrets Protection Law Would Foreclose Criticisms of the Government
Sakaguchi Shojiro

(Translation and Introduction by Hase Michiko)

On December 6, 2013, Japan’s Diet (national assembly) passed a controversial Designated Secrets Protection bill, having rushed it through both chambers in barely a month. Both the Liberal Democratic Party [LDP]-led administration that proposed the bill and the LDP-dominated Diet brazenly disregarded many voices of opposition, expressed in the public comments collected by the government (77% against and 13% for the bill), public opinion polls showing twice as many respondents opposing the bill as those in favor, daily demonstrations in front of the Diet building, and statements by an array of professional organizations: lawyers, journalists, academics, writers, film directors and actors, religious leaders as well as human rights and civil rights advocates. The law, promulgated December 13, 2013 and slated to take effect in a year’s time, gives the government potentially unchecked power to designate government information as special secrets, some for an indefinite time, and to punish leakers much more harshly than now. Critics of the law fear that it will further restrict citizens’ already limited access to government information and intimidate public officials, journalists, and citizens, thereby severely eroding the people’s constitutionally guaranteed right to know. Despite the grave and far-reaching implications of the legislation that could seriously jeopardize democracy in Japan, the Abe Shinzo administration rammed the bill through the Diet in less than a month: the administration introduced the bill on November 7, and the Diet spent only 67-68 hours to deliberate it, a strikingly brief time compared with more than 210 hours each that the Diet had spent deliberating the 2005 Postal Service Privatization Act and the 2012 legislation relating to the comprehensive reform of social security and tax systems, commonly known as the tax hike legislation.

Although the bill has been passed, critics believe there is much work to be done: continuing to expose and criticize what is in the law and the process through which it was passed, attempting to prevent it from taking effect and, if that is not possible, monitoring and challenging its implementation so as to curb unbridled government power.

The article below was originally published in Japanese in the October 2013 issue of JCLU [Japan Civil Liberties Union] Newsletter. Although it was written before the passage of the legislation, we publish an English translation here because we believe the issues Professor Sakaguchi raises remain relevant and need to be shared with readers of English.

The Abe administration is pushing to pass a Designated Secrets Protection bill to harshly clamp down on leaks of state secrets. The government’s draft bill identifies four categories of information as “special secrets”—“defense,” “diplomacy,” “prevention of activities that threaten security,” and “prevention of terrorist activities”—and aims to drastically increase the maximum penalty, which is currently one year in prison under the National Public Service Act. Not only public officials who leak “designated secrets” but anyone who asks them to leak the information would also be punished.

The [governing] Liberal Democratic Party [LDP] is seeking to revise the Constitution to make the emperor Head of State and severely limit the people’s freedom and rights. If the proposed bill becomes law, the people could completely lose control over the government even without constitutional revisions.

The Japan Civil Liberties Union invited Professor Sakaguchi Shojiro (constitutional law), Director of the Law School, Hitotsubashi University, to discuss some of the concerns raised by the proposed legislation.
(Reported by Kitakami Hidenori, a JCLU board member)

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