Kill the secrecy bill

Facing criticism of a bill to protect the government’s special secrets, the Abe administration and the ruling parties — the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito — proposed to amend the bill. But their proposals are a sham since they retain the basic character of the bill — that is, allowing the government to designate information related to security, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism as special secrets almost without limits and heavily restricting people’s access to such information by imposing severe penalties on government workers who leak such information and ordinary citizens, such as journalists, who try to obtain it. The opposition parties should not be duped by such amendment proposals. They should concentrate on disclosing the dangerous nature of the bill through Diet discussions with the aim of getting it killed.

Prison terms of up to 10 years will be given to national public servants who leak special secrets and prison terms of up to five years to ordinary citizens who try to get such information. The bill unduly expands the scope of information that can be designated as special secrets by widely using the phrase “and other.” It also allows the government to renew designations of special secrets every five years, thus enabling it to hide such secrets from the public indefinitely.

Ensuring the people’s right to know what their government is doing is a foundation of democracy. It is obvious that the secrecy bill undermines not only freedom of the press and the people’s right to know but also the fundamental constitutional principle that “sovereign power rests with the people.” Given the nature of the bill, what the opposition parties must do is clear: Make every effort to force the government and the ruling parties to abandon the bill.

To counter the secrecy bill, the Democratic Party of Japan has submitted to the Diet its own secrecy bill and a bill to revise the freedom of information law. The latter bill would allow a court to determine whether non-disclosure of particular government-held information is justifiable by examining it behind closed doors in cases in which the government turns down requests to disclose certain information. But the bill is toothless because it allows the heads of administrative bodies to reject court examinations if the information concerned is related to security and diplomacy. The DPJ should change its strategy and concentrate its efforts on killing the government’s secrecy bill.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga say that the secrecy bill has “layers of devices” to prevent arbitrarily designating government information as special secrets. But close scrutiny of the bill shows that this is not the case. Most critically it does not establish an independent third-party committee to examine every designated special secret classification to determine if it is justifiable. The public and the opposition parties should not be deceived by the administration’s disinformation campaign.

The ruling parties proposed to Your Party to amend the secrecy bill to let the prime minister receive explanations about the designations of special secrets and tell administrative bodies concerned to make changes if necessary, among other things. Because of the proposal, Your Party is expected to support the secrecy bill. This is extremely deplorable because the amendment proposal is merely cosmetic and will not change the bill’s basic nature. The party should forget the amendment proposal and oppose the bill.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    This makes sense; government officials are allowed to keep secrets, but the public isn’t. You might have expected them to actually set up a ‘quasi’ independent authority to actually create the pretence of independence and coherent policy. A sign of arrogance or indifference to public credibility perhaps?