The Defense Agency on Monday said that it and each branch of the Self-Defense Forces have systematically collected data on individuals who made information-disclosure requests, contradicting a statement last week indicating the practice was isolated to the Maritime Self-Defense Force and carried out by one person at his own initiative.
Agency officials also said lists of individuals plus information about them was posted on agency and SDF computer networks and viewed by an unspecified number of officials.
What’s more, it is unknown whether any of the private data collected could have been obtained by outsiders.
“I would like to offer my sincere apology to people who requested agency information for causing grave trouble and anxiety,” agency chief Gen Nakatani said Monday.
The latest development may cost Nakatani his post, political observers said.
After last week’s initial media report revealed the scandal, the agency originally said the data base, which included information on people’s occupations, workplaces, possible relations to MSDF employees, as well as other private information, was compiled by an MSDF lieutenant commander and distributed to only eight officials.
But Monday’s admission reveals that the privacy violations had been systematically committed by the agency and the Self-Defense Forces and that the private information collected on citizens was circulated among a countless number of officials.
The lists are coming to light as the Diet deliberates two controversial bills that critics say could prevent the media from gathering information regarding political scandals. One is ostensibly a privacy protection bill, and the other is labeled a human rights bill, but revelations that the Defense Agency and SDF branches have been gathering information on private citizens could scuttle those deliberations.
Diet debate over a package of emergency defense bills could also be sidetracked.
According to Yasunari Ito, administrative vice minister of the Defense Agency, his agency as well as the GSDF and ASDF have been compiling personal data on information-seekers since the disclosure law took effect in April 2001.
The data base was posted on local area networks until the list compiled by the MSDF came to light on May 28, he said.
The agency LAN can be accessed by all agency officials and by officials of the three forces working at its headquarters, while access to the ASDF, MSDF and GSDF LANs is limited to those within each force, according to agency officials.
“The possibility is not zero” that the data were leaked to outsiders by some agency and SDF officials, one of the officials said.
Ito said it is necessary for the agency and SDF to keep some information on people requesting information so that officials can proceed with their work appropriately. However, “there is no reason” to keep any lists containing private information on citizens seeking government information under the law, he said.
He went on to say that such an act would violate the law prohibiting government organizations from collecting unnecessary information on private citizens and from leaking private data on citizens to third parties.
He also said that the MSDF information disclosure office has another list of information-seekers that it has made out of operational necessity but that it does not contain any private information.
“I have to admit,” Ito said, “that officials engaged with personal information management as well as those who had viewed (the compiled data on) the LANs had poor awareness toward (the importance) of privacy protection.”
Asked by reporters why it took several days for the agency to confirm the fact after the MSDF case surfaced, Ito said, “I received no word to respond to the question.”
He said the agency will investigate the matter further to find out who instructed the information disclosure offices to compile the databases.
Meanwhile, ASDF Chief of Staff Gen. Ikuo Totake said he was not sure if the list compiled by the ASDF information disclosure office was a problem when he was notified about it soon after the MSDF case was revealed last week.
He said information about the occupations of the information-seekers was collected as part of everyday work at the information disclosure office and was not the work of special investigations.
GSDF Chief of Staff Gen. Masahiro Nakatani said he and his personnel had “poor awareness” toward protection of individual privacy.
He also said the GSDF’s list of information-seekers and their private data was prepared by the entire GSDF information disclosure office to ensure the smooth running of the office.
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