It has surfaced that 25 people refused to undergo a qualification check for handling state secrets — a procedure provided for by the state secrets law, which has just marked the first year since its enforcement in 2014. The check is highly intrusive; it has been criticized for infringing on the privacy of those who are investigated. The Diet should discuss whether the related provision is appropriate and make changes if necessary.
Under the law, only people who have passed the background check can handle information classified as state secrets. While most are government workers, others are employees of private-sector firms, mostly in the defense industry. Although the law went into effect in December 2014, a year after its enactment, such checks were not immediately carried out because the number of people who must be subjected to the procedure was so large. As a result, a temporary measure was adopted that allowed people who used to handle government secrets before the enforcement of the new law to continue as before. But on Dec. 1, the strict application of the law set in, requiring that only those who passed the check handle state secrets.
The law requires the head of a relevant government organization to evaluate its workers and private-sector people who are to handle state secrets for the purpose of making sure they will reliably handle classified information. The evaluation check is needed at 19 ministries and agencies, including the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Cabinet secretariat, the National Security Council, the National Police Agency and the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which are authorized to classify information in 55 categories in the areas of defense, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counterterrorism.
The government workers and company employees alike are investigated on such points as their possible links to terrorism and other activities harmful to public safety and records of criminal and disciplinary punishments, legal violations in handling information and narcotic drug abuse, as well as history of mental illnesses, drinking habits, financial conditions and credit worthiness. The investigation into the backgrounds of relatives is quite intrusive. The names, dates of birth, nationalities and addresses of their spouse, parents, children, siblings and others who live with them, as well as the spouse’s parents and children who are not members of their own family, must be supplied.
The government should heed the criticism from the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology against the inclusion of history of mental illnesses as a point that must be checked. The society said the provision would not only foment prejudice and discrimination against people suffering from mental illnesses but also violate the rights of people to receive treatment for mental illnesses and welfare benefits for people having such illnesses without worry.
The government should also be aware of the criticism that it is allegedly giving the greatest weight to the nationality of family members among the points that must be investigated and that this constitutes discrimination against non-Japanese.
The system requires a relevant government organization to directly investigate private-sector people who are to handle state secrets. This means the organization will possess personal information about them that even their employers do not have.
In introducing the procedure, the government used the systems practiced in the United States and Britain as references. The points for the check are almost the same as the ones used by the U.S. but lacks such information as the person’s Social Security number, military service record and sexual orientation. The U.S., an immigrant nation, needs a strict background check because there are occasions that immigrants from countries confronting the U.S. politically, militarily and otherwise, and the offspring of such immigrants, will become career government employees. There is a view that Japan does not need as strict an investigation as it has adopted.
According to the government, 97,560 people have undergone the qualification check, including 89,626 Defense Ministry officials and 576 defense industry workers, and 558 officials and 911 private-sector workers checked by the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency. The Foreign Ministry investigated 1,160 of its officials as well as 41 employees of related businesses, while the Cabinet secretariat checked 742 government workers and 672 private-sector employees. Most of the people subjected to the check work for the Defense Ministry since a large number of people handle the Self-Defense Forces’ emergency operation plans, codes and information on the performance of defense equipment.
Secrecy surrounds the qualification check. The government does not officially disclose how many people failed and how many refused to undergo it. Kyodo News reported that one person failed and 25 others refused to go through the check. These 25 people symbolize opposition to and fear about the state secrets law even among those whose job involves handling classified information. They may possibly be transferred to different jobs or have to give up their career due to their refusal. The government and the Diet should seriously consider to what extent privacy has to be intruded on in the qualification check and correct the system where necessary.
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