Photo/Illutration The National Diet Building in Tokyo (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The government has not sufficiently justified a bill to increase surveillance and regulation on the use of land and buildings in security-sensitive areas, which could unreasonably restrict the rights and lives of citizens if used in a discretionary manner.

No attempt to rush the bill through the Diet should be made. The government first needs to offer clear answers to many questions about the bill during the Upper House deliberations that are about to begin.

The Lower House has passed the bill, designed to allow the government to more strictly regulate the use of land near military bases, nuclear power plants and on remote islands close to the border.

The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, along with the two opposition parties of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People, voted for the legislation.

Even though the bill would allow the government to restrict the rights of private citizens and provide for punishment, including jail terms, for violations, an opposition request for Diet sessions to ask experts for their opinions about the bill was rejected. The ruling camp had the Lower House Cabinet Committee approve the bill after only 12 hours of deliberations.

This prompted the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which showed some support for the bill, to vote against it.

The fundamental problem with this bill is that it leaves so many vital details unclear. They are to be specified in guidelines and ordinances the government will establish after the bill is passed into law.

To ensure the government will not be given carte blanche in deciding on these details, they need to be either included in the bill or specified in formal government responses to related questions at the Diet.

Particularly worrisome is a provision to empower the government to issue instructions or orders to forbid any actions that "impede the functions of the facilities.” It is alarmingly unclear what “impede the functions of the facilities” means.

Violations of this provision would be punishable with fines or imprisonment. But the government has left the specifics to guidelines to be drafted later. It only cited a few specific examples, including electronic jamming and installing obstructive structures.

This raises concerns that the provision could be abused to restrict opposition campaigns against military bases or nuclear power plants.

Areas within 1 kilometer from security-sensitive facilities and remote islands near the border will be subject to special surveillance and regulation under the law. The facilities cited in the bill are those operated by the Self-Defense Forces, the U.S. military in Japan and the Japan Coast Guard.

Moreover, “lifeline facilities” vital for protecting people’s lives and properties will be added to the list in a government ordinance. The only examples given by the government are nuclear power facilities and civilian airports that are also used by the SDF.

The government has said railways and broadcasting stations could be designated in the future. That means the government could widen the scope of facilities covered by the law at its discretion.

The scope of information the government would be able to gather through investigation into how land and buildings are used should also be more clearly defined and limited.

The prime minister would have the power to require local governments and other authorities to provide such information as the names and addresses of the owners of land and facilities plus “other kinds of information as specified in an ordinance.”

While denying any intention to collect information about thought or religious creed, the government has not ruled out sharing collected information with the Cabinet Information Research Office and the Public Security Intelligence Agency.

Effective limits should be imposed on the government’s information-gathering operations under the law to prevent violations of the privacy or the freedom of thought and conscience of people targeted in investigations.

The current Diet session has just two more weeks to go. The government and the ruling coalition are seeking to get the bill enacted during the session. But more debate on the legislation is needed to address a range of concerns.

The ruling camp should not be allowed to take advantage of its majority control of the legislature to force the bill through the Diet after perfunctory discussions in the Upper House.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 3