In a review of current guidelines, it was decided Tuesday to reduce the number of government entities subject to Japan’s controversial secrecy law by 42.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office, the National Tax Agency and the Reconstruction Agency are among the organizations removed from the list — reduced from 70 to 28 — after they were deemed not to be dealing with the type of national security information designated as state secrets since the law came into effect in December 2014.
The Public Security Examination Commission, which is authorized to designate state secrets, is also removed from the list.
These institutions had no information classified as state secrets in the last five years.
Approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday, the revision will take effect Wednesday.
The 2014 secrecy law stipulated that a review of how it is applied must be conducted in five years, and that government institutions will be excluded from the list when they have had no state secrets since Dec. 10, 2014.
When the delisted institutions need to have state secrets, they must seek the opinion of an advisory panel to the government on information protection.
The National Police Agency, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the National Security Council will remain on the list.
Under the law, sensitive information in the areas of diplomacy, defense, counterterrorism and counterespionage can be designated as secrets and withheld from the public for up to 30 years.
The number of state secrets, designated by 12 government offices, stood at 581 at the end of June.
Leakers of such information could face up to 10 years in prison.
Critics have been concerned that the law will undermine the public’s right to know and freedom of the press, saying that the government can withhold information in the name of protecting state secrets at its discretion.
With the sharp drop in the number of designated entities, some experts blame the government for initially setting the scope more broadly than needed without carefully examining the need to do so.
“The fact that entities subject to the law were reduced significantly in the review conducted five years later shows that examinations were insufficient when the law was enacted,” said Kenta Yamada, a professor at Senshu University in Tokyo who is well-versed in information disclosure.
“We cannot say the Diet has fulfilled its role of imposing checks (on how the law is applied) sufficiently either, so we urgently need a fundamental review,” Yamada added.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Tuesday the law has “contributed to an increase in our international credibility and our access to more crucial information.”