A state secrets protection law aimed at safeguarding classified information on foreign affairs and security was promulgated on December 6, 2013. The government regards the law and the newly created National Security Council as the two indispensable pillars of Japan’s security and defense strategy. Meanwhile, the government must deal with the challenge of striking a legal balance between national security and citizens’ right to know.
A law to protect specially designated state secrets was passed on December 6, 2013, in order to protect classified information pertaining to foreign policy and national security. Behind that, there are some worrying developments in Japan’s security environment. Of the information pertaining to national security, the law designates information that needs to be kept secret and aims to prevent the information from leaking. The purpose of the law is to secure national security and citizens’ safety.
The second Abe cabinet considers this newly enacted law to be one half of a two-part equation vital to Japan’s security strategy. The other half is the National Security Council, launched on December 4. The council will play a crucial part in allowing Japan to share important intelligence with friends and allies. Japan has finally reached a level with Europe and the United States in its information security measures.
The opposition, media, lawyers, private groups and others joined in protest against the bill. They argued that such a law would jeopardize citizens’ right to know. However, the ruling coalition pushed the bill through with strong-arm tactics.
Overview of the State Secrets Protection Law
Designation of state secrets
Cabinet ministers and other heads of government agencies designate “specially designated secrets”
Specially designated secrets are defined as information that falls under the four categories of defense, diplomacy, prevention of specific harmful activities (e.g., espionage), and counterterrorism; whose leakage may severely compromise Japan’s national security; and has a special need for secrecy
Term of designation
Designations are effective for 5 years and may be renewed; cabinet approval is required for extensions beyond 30 years
The maximum term is 60 years, with the exception of information in the following 7 subcategories, for which the term may be extended beyond 60 years:
1) weapons, ammunitions, aircraft, etc.; 2) negotiations with foreign governments and international organizations; 3) intelligence-gathering techniques and capabilities; 4) information regarding human intelligence sources; 5) secret codes; 6) information provided by foreign governments or international organizations on the premise of nondisclosure for over 60 years; and 7) important information pursuant to the above items as designated by ordinance
Regardless of the term of designation, information that ceases to fulfill the criteria for secrecy shall be declassified
Security clearance of handlers
Individuals handling specially designated secrets must receive security clearance
Those exempt from security clearance include heads of government agencies; ministers, senior vice ministers, and parliamentary secretaries; and special advisors to the prime minister
Employees and contractors of government agencies are also subject to clearance
Items for assessment include terrorist ties, criminal records, psychiatric disorders, drinking habits, and financial situation
Penalties for leakers
Up to 10 years’ imprisonment for handlers of specially designated secrets who knowingly leaked such secrets
Up to 10 years’ imprisonment for those who obtained specially designated secrets by such means as deception, intimidation, forced entry of facilities, and unauthorized access
Up to 5 year’s imprisonment for those who conspired in, solicited, or incited the leakage of specially designated secrets
Interpretation and application
The basic human rights of citizens must not be violated, and due consideration must be given to freedom of reporting and news gathering where they serve to secure the people’s right to know
Information gathering by those working in publishing or news reporting, insofar as they are intended to pursue public interests and do not employ unlawful or unjust means, shall be deemed legitimate work-related activities
Supplementary provisions (establishment of an independent organization, etc.)
To be implemented from a date designated by ordinance within 1 year after promulgation
Government agencies that possess no specially designated secrets in the 5 years following implementation of the law shall forfeit the authority to handle such secrets
The government shall consider the establishment of an organization that can independently inspect and verify whether or not the standards for designating and declassifying state secrets are conducive to national security and take the necessary measures
(Originally written in Japanese on December 11, 2013.)