Classified Fukushima Documents Could Be Destroyed Without Ever Being Released After Retention Period Under New Bill

Classified docs could be destroyed after retention period under new bill (Mainichi, Sep 23, 2013):

Classified documents whose retention period has expired could be destroyed without ever being released under proposed legislation on the protection of state secrets, it has emerged.

The Cabinet Secretariat, which is overseeing a bill on national secrets, does not intend to specify how documents whose retention period has expired should be handled under the new legislation. This could result in government ministries and agencies deciding to destroy classified documents while the information remains secret.

The scenario has drawn fire from experts who say that information important enough to be classified in the first place should be left for future generations to inspect.

The government plans to submit the state secrets protection bill to the Diet during an extraordinary session in October.

Under the proposed legislation, Cabinet members would impose a “special secret” designation to four areas of information such as that on defense, foreign affairs, and anti-terrorism measures, which could “greatly impede the nation’s security” if leaked.

The bill states that a punishment of up to 10 years in prison could be meted out to civil servants who leak “special secrets.”

Regular official documents are subject to preservation rules under the public records and archives management law, which stipulates that the destruction of documents requires the prime minister’s consent. This means ministries and agencies cannot dispose of official documents of their own accord.

Masaki Noke, deputy head of the Cabinet Secretariat’s Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, said that while a document is classified as secret, it would not be subject to the rules for handling official documents. This suggests that government ministries and agencies could dispose of the documents at their own discretion since the public records and archives management law would not apply.

Yukiko Miki, a director at Access-Info Clearinghouse Japan, a nonprofit organization familiar with the administration of public documents, pointed out the need for preservation rules.

“If retention rules for special secrets are not decided, then it could be difficult in the future to verify administrative decisions and determine what kind of information was made secret,” she said.

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