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Defense Ministry to fix 'deliberately' obscure public file names

A Defense Ministry file is seen listed as "operations regular (2010)(A)" on the e-Gov official document public access portal. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has issued a notice to document managers to correct the names of files that have been given obscure titles to make public searches difficult, he told reporters on May 18.

"(File) names need to be improved so that that can be understood by people outside the ministry," Onodera told the post-Cabinet meeting news conference.

The Public Records and Archives Management Act obligates ministries and agencies to record a document's name, retention period, authoring department and other basic information in the government's administrative document registry, and to make it publicly available. However, a Defense Ministry document manager told the Mainichi that "files are deliberately given obscure names to avoid revealing the documents in response to freedom-of-information requests."

Examples of obscure file names included one translatable as "operations regular (2010)(A)" for a document concerning support for rebuilding efforts in Iraq. This is one of more than 40,000 items with abstract titles listed in the government's administrative document management registry. The registry can be searched via the e-Gov web portal, but it is very difficult to find a specific document if the file names give no hint about their content. This state of affairs surfaced after the Mainichi Shimbun obtained a Defense Ministry document list through a freedom of information filing.

The ministry has stated that a notice was issued via the deputy vice-minister of defense, who is responsible for document management, calling for file names to be made easier for citizens to understand, based on guidelines set out in the public records act and other standards.

"Directions are needed to give files straightforward names to make their content easy to grasp," Onodera said at the news conference.

(Japanese original by Tomohiro Katahira and Hiroyuki Oba, City News Department)

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