On Dec. 10, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's new special secrets law took effect despite overwhelming public opposition.

The new law gives bureaucrats enormous powers to withhold information produced in the course of their public duties that they deem a secret — entirely at their own discretion — and with no effective oversight mechanism to question or overturn such designations. The law also grants the government powers to imprison whistle-blowers, and prohibits disclosure of classified material even if its intention is to protect the public interest. This Draconian law also gives the government power to imprison journalists merely for soliciting information that is classified a secret.

But if the designation is itself secret, how is a journalist to know if they are courting arrest? The constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press now confronts the discretionary powers of an unaccountable bureaucracy swathed in secrecy. In the course of doing their job, journalists could unwittingly solicit secret information and thereby be in violation of the new law and subject to imprisonment. The government maintains that the new law would never be applied in such a way, but the wording of the law remains vague enough that it could be.