National

Bureaucrats can be punished if state secrets leak during cyberattacks

Kyodo

Civil servants placed in charge of information management could be punished under the newly enacted secrecy law if secrets leak due to cyberattacks, an internal government document said Monday.

The document, compiled in November 2011, is a record of discussions between the Foreign Ministry and the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, the intelligence-collection agency that oversees the secrecy law, when it was in the process of being drafted.

Responding to a question from the ministry on whether officials could be held liable after safety control measures have been taken, the research office said they “could, in general terms, be responsible for intentional or negligent failure to act.”

The ministry was apparently thinking about the surge in cyberattacks targeting diplomatic establishments abroad, while the research office was referring to cyberattacks against defense-related companies, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and IHI Corp., according to the document.

Under the secrecy law, which was enacted on Dec. 7 to deter government leaks, bureaucrats who leak confidential information due to negligence will face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to ¥500,000. Those who wage cyberattacks will face up to 10 years in prison.

The government will set up a third-party panel in the Cabinet Office in January that is expected to advise the prime minister about setting uniform criteria for the designation and declassification of state secrets.

The panel will also discuss fair administration of the law. The idea of punishing officials in connection with cyberattacks will also be debated.

Under the secrecy law, “special secrets” are defined as sensitive information related to diplomacy, defense, counterterrorism and counterespionage, with Cabinet ministers and chiefs of government agencies allowed to decide what constitutes a special secret at their own discretion.

Critics say the law undermines the public’s right to know and the right to freedom of speech under the Constitution.

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