By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: October 29, 2013
The Japanese government is poised to enact a secrecy law that will undermine the people’s right to know. The law will give all government ministries the right to classify information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism as a state secret. But there is no guideline as to what constitutes a secret. This lack of definition means the government could well designate any inconvenient information secret.
Under the proposed law, government officials found to have revealed secrets could be jailed up to 10 years. Such a provision would give officials even greater incentive to label documents secret rather than risk their release.
Until now, only the Defense Ministry had the authority to classify information as a “defense secret.” Its record is abysmal. Of the 55,000 documents the ministry classified secret between 2006 and 2011, 34,000 were destroyed at the end of a particular secrecy period, depending on the document. And only one was declassified for public release.
The new law would allow the secrecy period to be extended indefinitely. And it further limits government accountability by making no clear provision for sharing secrets with elected representatives in the national Diet.
The law will make an already opaque government more so by threatening to jail journalists, up to five years, for doing their job in an “invalid” and “wrongful” manner. Japan’s newspapers fear that there will be markedly less communication between journalists and government officials. Opinion polls show that the public is very skeptical of the law and its reach. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, is eager to pass it as soon as possible.