Connect to share and comment

U.S. expert urges appeals process in Japan's secrecy act


An American expert on classification policy says Japan's recent secrecy law lacks a check and balance system to prevent bureaucratic overreach and ensure government accountability.

Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said in a recent interview with Kyodo News, "This act on specially designated secrets...I don't see an appeals process at all."

Blanton said that appeals processes for declassification are necessary to balance the harm to national security and the right for public knowledge and government transparency.

"You only get that harm test and balancing test when you can force the information out of the hands of the originating agency, or the original bureaucrat and get it into new review," Blanton said.

Blanton said, "This law includes language about the people's right to know but it needs to have some actual formal and bureaucratic process that would balance those interests."

Without such a balance, the current law is "essentially an invitation to the bureaucracy to put a secret stamp on anything they create that's protecting their own bureaucratic power," Blanton said.

The Washington-based nongovernmental archive obtains and publishes declassified documents. Blanton has testified before Congress about classification policy several times in the past decade.

Japan's secrecy law was enacted in December 2013 as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's attempt to create a framework to protect intelligence sharing with its allies, particularly the United States.

As the Japanese public, media and opposition parties have criticized the secrecy law for potentially limiting freedom of the press and discouraging whistle-blowers, lawmakers of Abe's ruling bloc are seeking a system that can check whether the government designation of state secrets is reasonable.

Blanton recommends the information security oversight division has "a mandate to push declassification because if the system inevitably over-classifies, which it will, this law is an invitation to throw a burka over all government bulk process in Japan unfortunately."

Blanton noted that the U.S. government's interagency appeals panel has approved 70 percent of the declassification appeals previously rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency, suggesting that over-classification is reflexive and that not all information is harmful to national security.

Without such a panel in Japan's secrecy system, Blanton cautioned that Japan will confront a situation whereby information that can be published without consequences to national security is protected from public scrutiny.

Moreover, protection of those seeking declassification must be guaranteed and applied, Blanton said. Referring to President Barack Obama's Presidential Policy Directive 19 signed in 2012, he said, "It's written into the executive order that implements the classification system that people are encouraged to do this and if they do it, their supervisors and agencies are prohibited from retaliating against them."

Noting that President Bill Clinton had vetoed a bill similar to Japan's in 2000, Blanton said, "If that bill had gone into place there would be far more prosecutions on leaks grounds of reporters and others."

The scrapped U.S. bill would have expanded government power to prosecute anyone who revealed "any classified information" regardless of the reason or effect of disclosure.