The government might not punish individuals who provide confidential government information to the news media when it drafts a bill to bolster the protection of national secrets, a government source said Sunday.
The government is planning to submit the bill to the extraordinary Diet session in the fall. It is aimed at imposing tougher penalties on individuals, especially civil servants, who disclose information classified as “special secrets” related to Japanese foreign policy, national security and public order.
The government’s latest move follows widespread opposition from ruling bloc and opposition lawmakers who argue that the a imposing strict penalties on offenders for leaking national secrets could restrict the public’s right to know and freedom of the press.
Under the bill, information that could seriously damage national security if leaked will be designated as state secrets. It will be classified into four categories — defense, diplomacy, prevention of security threats aimed at serving the interests of a foreign country, and prevention of terrorism.
Access to such secrets would be permitted to personnel of government agencies and prefectural police departments as well as officials of defense contractors and other businesses if they clear background checks.
Cabinet ministers, senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries as well as deputy chief Cabinet secretaries would be granted access to state secrets without having to undergo the background checks.
If those officials leak secrets either intentionally or inadvertently, they would be punished with imprisonment of up to 10 years.
Private individuals who obtain such information by breaking into government buildings will be subject to penalties, including imprisonment for up to 10 years, according to the sources.
Masako Mori, minister in charge of the declining birthrate, will concurrently serve as minister in charge of information security.
Ahead of the planned launch of an institution similar to the U.S. National Security Council, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes it is necessary to strengthen penalties for offenders over leaks on confidential information, as it is planning to share information with the United States.
Talks to introduce such legislation began after a Japan Coast Guardsman posted video online showing a collision in 2010 between a coast guard vessel and a Chinese fishing boat it was trying to shoo away from the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands.