Editorial: Upper house must shun haste, debate secrets bill sensibly

The House of Councillors has begun deliberations on a controversial special state secrets bill, which the ruling coalition earlier rammed through the powerful House of Representatives.

The governing bloc comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito is aiming to ensure that bill be enacted by the Dec. 6 end of the ongoing extraordinary Diet session. However, key opposition parties are demanding that the bill be either deliberated thoroughly or scrapped, and are intensifying their confrontation with the government.

The coalition railroaded the bill through the lower house without sufficient discussions. With only a week left for deliberations in the upper house, it would be unacceptable for the chamber to pass it into law. The upper house should highlight problems with the bill, such as its impact on civil life, through in-depth discussions.

Following its passage through the lower chamber, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe said, "We'd like to dispel people's concerns about the bill through upper house deliberations and other efforts." The ruling bloc should live up to its words and back away from hasty enactment.

Even the lower house's hurried, inadequate deliberations on the bill took about 20 days following its submission to the chamber. If the ruling bloc is to stick to its goal of enacting the bill by the end of next week in spite of its numerous flaws, the coalition should be criticized for disregarding the role of the upper house.

The upper chamber should shine light on the bill's wide-ranging problems. In particular, it should seriously probe the impact that the bill could have on not only public servants but also on the news media and civil life.

Under the bill, ordinary citizens who aid and abet or conspire with others in leaking information classified as special state secrets could face up to five years in prison even if the information were not actually revealed. If citizens were indicted for obtaining special secrets under the legislation, they could be convicted without the content of the information being clarified. Moreover, it still remains unclear what kind of actions and cases would be subject to punishment under bill. These issues constitute a crucial point of contention because they could pose a threat to citizens' efforts to gain access to government information.

Further, people who deal with special state secrets would include not only public servants but also private citizens, such as employees of companies that receive such information, under the bill. Personal information on such people would be probed thoroughly to determine whether they are qualified to deal with such classified information. But thorough discussions have not been held on the scope of people who would deal with special state secrets or specific measures to prevent personal information on such individuals from leaking. Also lacking is discussion on how judgments that certain individuals are not qualified to handle such information might affect personnel management at the companies that employ them.

The upper house should scrutinize all aspects of the bill, including agreements between the ruling coalition, the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) and Your Party on revisions, which the lower house spent only two hours discussing.

Prime Minister Abe says a third-party organization should be set up to examine whether the government's designation of internal information as special secrets is appropriate. Still, he has neither promised to establish such a panel, nor clarified how independent the organization would be or stated when it would be founded.

Some legislators with the JRP are critical of the revisions to the bill and the party abstained from voting on it in the lower house on the grounds that deliberations were insufficient. Three legislators belonging to Your Party defied party leadership, with two of them voting against the bill and the other walking out of the session before voting. Since the JRP's anticipated abstention and Your Party's split caused the ruling coalition to ram the bill through the lower house, serious questions should be raised over the four-party agreement on modifications to the bill.

The ruling coalition regained a majority in the upper house following the July election. Still, if the ruling bloc resorts to its majority in both houses of the Diet to hastily pass the bill, it would call into question the significance of the bicameral system and even the raison d'etre of the upper chamber. The upper house should fulfill its role of the "bastion of good sense" as it is known.

November 28, 2013(Mainichi Japan)