Government secrets will be kept to a minimum and disclosed as quickly as possible, the Abe administration vowed Thursday in an outline of new rules for designating and disclosing “special secrets” under the controversial secrecy law.
The law caused a public uproar amid fears that it will undermine the public’s right to know in a nation where the press is controlled by a “kisha club” system and disclosure is already hard to come by.
Under the proposed rules, the administration will set up a system that can impose strict checks on how the law will be applied, but critics believe it will be ineffective as the mechanism will remain under government control and lack independent oversight.
Under the secrecy law, civil servants, journalists and others who leak sensitive information on foreign policy, defense, counterterrorism and counterespionage, will face up to 10 years in prison. Those who instigate leaks will face a maximum term of five years.
Officials “will designate the minimum amount of information as secrets for the shortest period of time possible,” the draft said.
“The rules will help make sure our handling of secrets will be more objective and transparent,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an advisory panel on information protection that received the draft.
The government hopes to seek input from the ruling bloc soon so the rules can be finalized and approved by the Cabinet before the law takes effect in December, officials said.
The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc, led by Abe’s LDP, shoved the secrecy bill through the Diet late last year despite criticism that it allows information to be withheld at the government’s discretion and that the definition of “special secrets” is too vague.
The draft says that information about the capabilities of submarines, aircraft, weapons and bullets will fall under the category of special secrets. Information gathered via radio waves and satellite, and obtained by foreign governments, will also be kept secret.
Abe promised to set up the seven-member advisory panel and an oversight committee within the government where officials from the defense and foreign ministries and the National Police Agency will check the legitimacy of anything designated secret by their fellow government entities.