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State secret oversight board head calls for rules on document disposal

Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Fukushiro Nukaga, center, listens to a question in the Diet on Jan. 25, 2018. (Mainichi)

The head of a House of Representatives board charged with overseeing the operation Japan's special state secrets law has called for concrete rules regarding disposal of documents when their designated retention periods are set for less than a year.

Under the current rule, government organizations can discard documents classified under the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets without third party checks when they are designated to be kept for less than one year.

"I think we should formulate some sort of rules. It would be good to organize things so that the Japanese people will be informed about the documents that are being discarded after less than a year," Fukushiro Nukaga, chairman of the Board of Oversight and Review of Specially Designated Secrets, told a Jan. 26 news conference.

Secret documents designated for retention for a year or more are recorded in a ledger for management, and can only be thrown out after the independent Inspector General for Public Records Management, based in the Cabinet Office, checks them and the Cabinet Office itself gives its approval. As of February last year, 93 classified documents including one on "regulations for the implementation of electronic intelligence operations" by the defense and industry ministries had been approved for disposal by the inspector general's office, and the documents are currently being checked by the Cabinet Office.

The lower house's oversight board was allowed to inspect part of the industry ministry and Ministry of Defense-authored document as well as one slated for disposal by the defense ministry's Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency during a closed meeting on Jan. 26. At the news conference following the meeting, Nukaga told reporters the board members demanded that the documents in question be shown considering the Japanese people's right to know. He said that the board members were given explanations.

There is no requirement for secret files to be entered into the document management ledger if they are given a less-than-one-year retention period as such documents are considered "minor," and the files can be thrown out at the discretion of the ministries and agencies that created them. It appears that there are some such documents that have already been discarded, though details are unknown.

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