Ruling, opposition eye Diet oversight panel for Japan's secrecy law

Japan's ruling and opposition parties are exploring the possibility of setting up a panel in the parliament to act as an oversight mechanism to monitor designation and declassification of state secrets under a controversial new law, lawmakers said Saturday.

Both camps are considering establishing a permanent standing committee in the Diet, which will discuss secrets provided by the government for counterchecking, after the nation's secrecy law to prevent state secret leaks was enacted Friday, the lawmakers said.

The Diet Law is expected to be revised to set up such a committee in the parliament, they said.

Attention is focused on whether the Diet can effectively keep an eye on preventing the government from making an arbitrary designation of state secrets.

Under the secrecy law, "special secrets" are defined as sensitive information on diplomacy, defense, counterterrorism and counterespionage, and Cabinet ministers and government agency chiefs can decide what will constitute special secrets.

The envisioned Diet oversight panel is patterned after the U.S. committees on intelligence, both under the Senate and House of Representatives, the lawmakers said.

The political parties are expected to send a delegation consisting of their members of the steering committees of both chambers to the United States possibly next month, they said.

The law envisages that the monitoring of the secrets will be done by a third-party oversight mechanism and the parliament.

The government has already unveiled that it will set up a third-party oversight organization in the Cabinet Office as well as an oversight committee in the Cabinet Secretariat where the legitimacy of special secrets will be checked.

The oversight panel in the parliament will hold closed-door meetings and the government will make the special secrets available for discussion, unless the revelation of such secrets is deemed to pose a major security risk, the lawmakers said.

Leakers of special secrets, such as civil servants, will face up to 10 years in prison, and those who instigate leaks a maximum term of five years.

How to deal with cases in which lawmakers spill secrets to their secretaries or staff will be subject to future Diet deliberations, the lawmakers said.

The government's original version of the bill contained a clause that says the government may provide special secrets to the Diet through a closed-door meeting.

Critics have been arguing that the law could undermine the public's right to know and freedom of the press and are protesting that the law was rushed to be passed in the parliament without sufficient debate.