Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet on April 26 endorsed a government report on the actual implementation of the state secrets protection law and presented it to both the Upper House president and the Lower House speaker.

The annual report failed to respond to calls by the Board of Oversight and Review of Specially Designated Secrets of both Diet houses for more specific information about the designation of state secrets.

At the end of March, the boards, which are tasked with checking the designation and declassification of state secrets under the law, urged the government to provide better titles for the pieces of information designated as state secrets to give more clues to what the information is about.

The report only refers to these pieces of information by using such vague phrases as “information concerning Self-Defense Forces operation plans and other issues” or “information about people who have become human information sources for police.”

This makes it impossible to objectively assess the appropriateness of the government’s decisions to classify specific information.

What is baffling is the excuse given by the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office. In explaining the reasons for the vague titles, the office claimed there had not been enough time for the necessary work. “We will deal with the problem in next year’s report while explaining the process (of compiling the report),” the office said.

Although the government needs to keep certain information secret, it should not forget that the information it has acquired actually belongs to the public.

The Abe administration has shown a blatant disregard for the Diet’s important request to improve the handling of state secrets. The Diet represents the public and is responsible for monitoring the behavior of the government.

The monitoring boards of the Diet chambers have also failed to perform their roles in a satisfactory way. They called for improvements in the descriptions of cases only as their “opinion” instead of issuing a more forceful “recommendation” on the issue.

As of the end of last year, the government had designated 443 cases of specific information as state secrets, up 61 from a year earlier, according to the report. The number of related documents increased by more than 80,000 to 272,020.

A maximum five-year period of classification was set for 441 of the 443 cases.

The guidelines for implementing the law, say the classification period should be the minimum necessary. But the legal maximum of classification for five years was applied to most of the cases. Unfortunately, information necessary for objectively assessing the appropriateness of the length of classification for individual cases is not available.

The report also contains, for the first time, certain facts about the background checks of officials and private-sector persons who may deal with state secrets.

The checks cover a wide range of topics, including their debt situations, drinking habits, mental health conditions and even the nationalities of their family members, including whether some of them have become naturalized.

A total of 96,200 have been cleared, with only one disqualified. But the report offers no reason for the disqualification.

Some members of the Council for the Protection of Information, Abe’s advisory panel, have argued for disclosing as much information as possible about decisions on the disqualification while protecting the person’s privacy. The government should take this argument seriously.

The secrecy watchdogs of both houses should be alarmed about their poor job performances. They must not degenerate into toothless monitoring entities that only rubber-stamp the government’s decisions to classify information.

They should first identify all the problems with the implementation of the law and strongly demand that the government address them.

If they become watchdogs by name only, they cannot carry out their responsibility to monitor the government as the people’s representatives.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 28