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Government to promulgate new secrets law quickly

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The government will promulgate the contentious state secrets law Friday, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet will be tested in its ability to create viable independent overseers to check how the state classifies and declassifies information before the law takes effect within a year.

The law lacks detailed standards for determining what information to classify as secret or declassify for release. This apparently led during Diet deliberation to uncoordinated responses by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito administration.

With the law’s promulgation, an expert council to compile standards will be launched. The prime minister will report to the council on what kind of information will be classified and declassified, but members of the council will not have access to individual secrets or know them in detail.

Abe also promised toward the end of the Diet deliberation that he will form bodies to enhance transparency and prevent the government from over-classify-ing information.

The Cabinet Secretariat will form a project team to set up a committee for information security to advise the prime minister and a “highly independent body” to monitor the government.

But it is unclear how independent these bodies will be, as the planned committee consists of vice ministers and the chief and deputy Cabinet secretaries. This has invited criticism that the government wants to keep total internal control.

The planned 20-member independent body is supposed to serve as a true check on the government. But because it will operate under the Cabinet Office, critics question whether it will have a credible third-party nature.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga earlier this month said the independent body could eventually be upgraded into an agency to enhance its third-party nature.

Another loophole is that the Diet does not have the power to check the secrets-classification process.

The law stopped short of requiring that the government inform the Diet about the details of state secrets. Classified information can only be discussed in a closed session and only those in attendance would have access to the secrets.