Editorial: Enactment of secrecy law

Can a free society be preserved?

A secrecy law that has provoked skepticism among many citizens was passed during a late-night plenary session of the House of Councillors on December 6 and has become law.

Widespread opposition to the law has been voiced by scientists, writers, film directors, actors and others because of fears that the law may undermine the free society that postwar Japan has carefully preserved.

“I know that the people have misgivings and concerns,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “and I will work to dispel them.” Despite this, the ruling parties ran the Diet proceedings in a heavy-handed manner throughout. As a result, many people are even more concerned.

The secrecy law is to be implemented within one year of its promulgation. The government has said it will create a specific system for implementation of the law. But it’s highly unlikely that the many concerns that have been raised can be dispelled within a short period of time. At the very least, implementation of the law should be put on hold for now.

Essence of the law will not change

There is no denying that the nation has secrets that must be protected, but it’s hard to believe that there would be a problem without this secrecy law.

Absolutely no effort was made to address substantive issues through interpellation in the Diet. First of all, there is the matter of the breadth of the “special secrets,” which extend to four areas: defense, diplomacy, the prevention of espionage and the prevention of terrorism. The government had said the aim of the secrecy law was to make it easier to get information from foreign countries through Japan’s version of the U.S. National Security Council, which was created on the 4th of this month, and other agencies.

If that’s the case, it should be enough to address just two areas: defense, for which the Self-Defense Forces Law provides a mechanism for protecting secrecy, and diplomacy. It is particularly important to note that there is room for widening the scope of the law as it applies to espionage and terrorism, depending on how the law is interpreted.

Although he later retracted his statement, Shigeru Ishiba, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, likened the demonstrations against the secrecy law to terrorism. The leaders of the ruling coalition have shown how fuzzy the definition of terrorism is. In that case, many citizens could become subject to monitoring.

Threat to separation of powers

There are lingering concerns that information about nuclear power plants and military bases will be covered up even more. We can well understand why the prefectural assemblies of Fukushima and Okinawa passed resolutions calling for serious debate on the issues in the Diet.

This situation also poses a threat to the separation of powers. The government has said that the “special secrets” will be designated by heads of government agencies, but the actual work will be done by bureaucrats in the various ministries and agencies. Internal scandals or information that puts the government in a bad light may be treated as a special secret.

There may also be more information that members of the Diet, who were elected by the people, cannot get. If the right of the Diet to investigate state affairs is subject to restrictions, the check function of the legislative branch will be undermined.

It is safe to say that there will also be trials in which evidence does not come to light because it has been designated as a special secret. In that case the justice system certainly cannot be said to be fair.

Information belongs to the people – not bureaucrats – in the first place. The reason the mechanism for the disclosure of information has been so neglected is that the government is confused about that.

Arrogance of the administration

The focus of debate in both houses of the Diet was the establishment of an independent body to review the appropriateness of the designation of secrets. In the House of Representatives, as a result of negotiations on revisions to the law with some members of the opposition, a clause was added to the effect that the establishment of an independent body would be considered. Meanwhile, in deliberations in the House of Councillors, Prime Minster Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declared that the government would set up a number of new watchdog agencies, but no further revisions were made to the text of the law.

If the government was serious about that, they should have stipulated it clearly in the law itself.

Prime Minister Abe said the current extraordinary Diet session would be one in which the Diet tackled the implementation of growth strategies, and that’s what many people were hoping for. But in actuality he just charged ahead with the secrecy law, which he had not referred to at all in his policy speech.

These kinds of strong-arm tactics reflect the fact that no major national election is scheduled to be held for a while. If the administration thinks that the voters will soon forget about it when the Diet is run in a heavy-handed manner, their high approval rating must have gone to their heads.

As a news outlet, we are revisiting our responsibility to monitor those in power and to protect the people’s right to know. We cannot approve of a law that corrupts the rights of the people. Even if the law takes effect, our awareness of this responsibility will remain unchanged.

(Originally published on December 8, 2013)