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State secrets laws : Potential for govt. cover-ups

December 12, 2015

EDITORIAL: Anxiety still lingers over 1-year-old secrecy law


A full year has passed since the state secrets protection law came into force.

“I believe the citizens are aware that nothing of the kind that they initially feared has taken place during this time,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

We, however, disagree.

That is because, by the very nature of the secrecy law that took effect on Dec. 10, 2014, it remains impossible to find out from the outside if any information that is inconvenient for the government has not been withheld or if the law has not been applied in an arbitrary manner.

“I think I should have taken more time to provide more detailed explanations,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a news conference two years ago when he had the state secrets protection law enacted. “From now on, I will explain carefully to erase people’s concerns.”

It remains to be seen if careful explanations have actually been provided or if people’s concerns have really been erased.

It has been disclosed recently that in 2013, prior to the Cabinet approval of the state secrets protection bill, the Board of Audit of Japan pointed out to the Cabinet Secretariat that government ministries and agencies could refuse to submit documents that contain designated state secrets, a situation that was “constitutionally problematic.”

In response, the Cabinet Secretariat said it would issue a notice to instruct government ministries and agencies to comply with auditing as before, but it has yet to make good on that word. Board of Audit officials said no ministry or agency has so far cited the secrecy law to withhold documents, but said the notice should be issued at any rate, because there is the undeniable possibility that auditing could be obstructed in the future.

Article 90 of the Constitution says that “final accounts of the expenditures and revenues of the state shall be audited annually by a board of audit.”

That provision was included to reflect that, under the prewar Constitution of the Empire of Japan, the government’s secret funds and military expenses were excluded from auditing, which resulted in a lack of auditing control over the ballooning expenses related to the armed forces.

The Cabinet Secretariat may be taking that historical context and the weight of the Constitution too lightly. It should promptly issue the notice as it said it would.

It has also been learned that a survey trip to Japan by a U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression, which had initially been scheduled for early December, was delayed at the last minute at the request of the Japanese government, which asked the rapporteur to postpone his visit to autumn 2016 at the earliest.

The rapporteur had planned to gather information on the state secrets protection law and other matters.

A Foreign Ministry official said the delay was not requested because Tokyo found anything inconvenient in the issues to be surveyed, but simply because it was difficult to schedule the availability of officials in charge of the matter. But suspicion against administrative organs will linger as long as the essential nature of the state secrets protection law, which allows them to conceal whatever they wish, remains the same.

Now is the time for Abe to “explain carefully to erase people’s concerns.” Doing so amounts to a minimal duty for the person responsible for brushing aside deep-rooted criticism and concerns to have the secrecy law enacted.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 12

December 8, 2015

Secrecy legislation carries potential for serious government cover-ups


Under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, which remained in force from 1890 until 1947, the Board of Audit of Japan faced limitations on checking military-related budgets. Since secret funds of the government and military were exempt from auditing in those days, the bulk of military-related budgets remained in a "black box."

The book "Kaikei Kensain Hyakunenshi" (100-year history of the Board of Audit), published in 1980 by the Board of Audit of Japan, states that there were considerable constraints on auditing under the Military Secrets Protection Law (revised in 1937). The law was designed to punish those who leaked military secrets.

Based on lessons learned from this past, Article 90 of the current Constitution stipulates that "Final accounts of the expenditures and revenues of the State shall be audited annually by a Board of Audit ..." This means that the Board of Audit is independent of the Cabinet. There have been no provisions so far even in the Self-Defense Forces Act that limit the provision of defense secrets to the Board of Audit.

Specially designated state secrets include documents on budgetary measures for defense and foreign policies.

Regarding Section 1 of Article 10 of the Act on Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, Hiroshi Arikawa, former commissioner of the Board of Audit and professor of public policy at Nihon University, said, "If those who are subject to auditing can select which documents to submit, I would have to say it infringes on Article 90 of the Constitution."

The special secrets act, which imposes heavy penalties on those who leak important state secrets and those who obtain such information through unauthorized means, carries the potential for serious cover-ups of information. The government should make efforts to allay such doubts.

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