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Secrets of the State: The Impact of Japan’s New State Secrecy Law on Information Control, Surveillance and Government Transparency
- Martin Fackler (Tokyo Bureau Chief, The New York Times)
- Koichi Nakano (Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Sophia University)
- Lawrence Repeta (Professor at Meiji University Faculty of Law, and former director of the Temple University School of Law, Tokyo Campus)
Under the forceful leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s national Diet passed a far-reaching state secrecy act on December 6, 2013. The new law grants power to all major administrative agencies to designate information secret when they decide its release would present a risk of damage to national security and that the information falls within any of four categories: national security, foreign relations, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.
The law has been subject to widespread opposition both within Japan and from the international community. This criticism was summarized by United Nations Rapporteur for Freedom of Speech Frank Larue, who wrote that the new secrecy law “not only appears to establish very broad and vague grounds for secrecy but also include serious threats to whistle-blowers and even journalists reporting on secrets.”
The duty to maintain secrets will be enforced by a new criminal penalty of up to ten years in prison. Journalists and others who improperly instigate the release of secrets face imprisonment of up to five years. Critics fear that the new secrecy power may be used to conceal a wide range of government activities, including oversight of nuclear power plants, information related to U.S. military bases, and police surveillance, including investigations of Muslims and others considered to be potential terrorists.
Many have also pointed to the connection between expanded secrecy power and the Liberal Democratic Party’s plan to revise Japan’s Constitution to increase government power and reduce protections for individual rights. Recent action by the Abe administration to change the government’s longstanding interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution to allow for “collective self-defense” has also raised the concerns of many who fear this will lead to Japan’s participation in military actions abroad.
Prime Minister Abe has defended the new law as being a necessary strengthening of Japanese security, that will allow more sharing of secrets with its allies, principally the United States. Modeled in part on comparable laws in the U.S. that were implemented after 9.11 by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Japanese state secrecy act may be used to bolster state surveillance and legalize more intrusive scrutiny of its citizens. As we have seen with the public disclosure of surveillance by the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies in the U.S. by whistleblowers such as Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, the implications of Japan’s state secrecy act may be that whistleblowers can be imprisoned for revealing information that is perceived to threaten the interests and political agenda’s of state-level actors.
What will be the impact of this new law on the Japan’s military activities? How will it influence the work of news reporters and the release of vital information to the Japanese people? How will the law affect the willingness of whistleblowers to step forward and raise issues that may be seen to jeopardize state secrets? Is the new secrecy law actually necessary? Whose interests does it serve?
Our distinguished panel, comprised of authorities in Japanese law, academia and journalism, will consider questions like these as they discuss the law’s impact on Japan’s future as a democratic society.
Tokyo Bureau Chief, The New York Times
Martin Fackler is the Tokyo bureau chief for the New York Times, covering Japan and the Korean peninsula. A native of Iowa who grew up in Georgia, he was first captivated by Asia more than 20 years ago when he spent his sophomore year in college studying Mandarin and classical Chinese at Taiwan’s Tunghai University. A chance to study Japanese at Keio University in Tokyo led him to Japan, where he later did graduate work in economics at the University of Tokyo. He has Masters degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana and in East Asian history from the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to the New York Times, he has also worked in Tokyo for the Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He has also worked for the AP in New York, Beijing and Shanghai. He joined The New York Times in 2005, working first as Tokyo business correspondent before assuming his current position in 2009. In 2012, Martin was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for his and his colleagues’ investigative stories on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident that the prize committee said offered a “powerful exploration of serious mistakes concealed by authorities in Japan.” He is the author (in Japanese) of “Credibility Lost: The Crisis in Japanese Newspaper Journalism after Fukushima,” a critical look at Japanese media coverage of the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster.
Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Sophia University
Koichi Nakano is Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Sophia University. He specializes in the comparative politics of advanced industrial democracies, particularly Japan and Europe, and in political theory. He has a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Tokyo, a second B.A. in philosophy and politics from the University of Oxford, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University. His research has focused on a variety of issues of contemporary Japanese politics from comparative, historical, and philosophical perspectives, including neoliberal globalization and nationalism; the Yasukuni problem; language, media and politics; amakudari and administrative reform in Japan; decentralization; the cross-national transfer of policy ideas; and a review of the DPJ government. In English, he has published articles in The Journal of Japanese Studies, Asian Survey, The Pacific Review, West European Politics, Governance, and a single-authored book entitled Party Politics and Decentralization in Japan and France: When the Opposition Governs (Routledge, 2010) among others. In Japanese, his publication includes Sengo Nihon no Kokka Hoshushugi: Naimu/Jichi Kanryo no Kiseki (Postwar State Conservatism in Japan: A Study of the Bureaucrats of the Ministry of Home Affairs) (Iwanami Shoten, 2013). He has also frequently commented on Japanese politics for the international and Japanese media, including BBC, CNN, Reuters, AP, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, ABC, The Australian, and BS Fuji.
Professor at Meiji University Faculty of Law, and former director of the Temple University School of Law, Tokyo Campus
Lawrence Repeta is a professor on the law faculty of Meiji University in Tokyo. He has served as a lawyer, business executive, and law professor in Japan and the United States. He is best known in Japan as the plaintiff in a landmark suit decided by the Supreme Court of Japan in 1989 that opened Japan`s courts to note-taking by courtroom spectators. He serves on the board of directors of Information Clearinghouse Japan (情報公開クリアリングハウス) http://www.clearing-house.org/, an NGO devoted to promoting open government in Japan that is affiliated with other organizations that promote individual rights. He has been awarded an Abe Fellowship by the Center for Global Partnership to conduct research at the National Security Archive, a non-profit research institute located at George Washington University http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv. Larry is a former director of the Temple University Law Program in Japan.