National

Activist challenges secrets law with anonymous whistle-blower website

by Teppei Kasai

Reuters

A Japanese Internet activist and academic is challenging the recently enacted state secrets law by setting up a website aimed at making it easier for government officials to leak sensitive information to the media without getting caught.

The website, unveiled Friday, uses an open source platform called GlobaLeaks developed by the Europe-based Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights, said Masayuki Hatta, an economics lecturer at Surugadai University.

“I want to create a secure channel that people can use to transfer information without putting themselves in jeopardy,” Hatta said. “I’m not entirely against the protection of sensitive information, but I also believe the new law has many problems.”

He said government officials and others could use the website to transfer documents to journalists who could then retrieve the digital leak with an access key.

The secrets law drafted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government took effect last week after yearlong protests against it. The law sets prison terms of up to 10 years for public servants or others who leak state secrets and allows journalists and others who encourage such leaks to be imprisoned for five years.

Critics say the government has not clarified how the law will be applied and argue it will have a chilling effect on those who want to report misdeeds.

Reporters Without Borders has called the law “an unprecedented threat to freedom of information.”

Officials at the Justice Ministry and Cabinet Office said they could not comment on Hatta’s project.

Hatta, who unveiled the website at Tokyo’s Waseda University, hopes to make the whistle-blower platform a digital clearinghouse for sensitive information but said it would not publish anything on its own, setting it apart from WikiLeaks.

To access the site — 4ge3uua3uaxuhhaq.onion — the Internet privacy service called The Onion Router, or Tor, must be used.

Hatta said he had consulted lawyers and believed he was protected under Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press and the right to know.

Providing a tool for whistle-blowing most likely would not be punishable under the state secrets law whereas proactively helping a whistle-blower leak information could be, said Yukiko Miki at Clearinghouse Japan, a nonprofit organization that promotes information disclosure.