OSAKA -- Documents about protesters opposing a U.S. base relocation project in Okinawa held by the Defense Ministry's local bureau may have been rewritten to remove personal information about those individuals, according to an internal report by one of the bureau's security contractors. Such changes were allegedly made after one of the protestors filed a freedom of information request in May 2016.
The company, Risingsun Security Service Co. based in Tokyo, made a list of protesters when it was providing maritime security for the ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau off the coast of Henoko in the city of Nago in Japan's southernmost prefecture, from August 2014 through November 2017. The location is the planned site for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan further south in Okinawa Prefecture.
The Risingsun report, a copy of which was obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, said that "arrangements were made to completely remove" personal information of protesters at Henoko from reports that had already been submitted by the contractor to the defense bureau. A senior official of the security firm said that they were told by bureau officials to "resubmit" the paper.
The existence of the list of protestors made by Risingsun was originally reported by a local daily, Okinawa Times, on May 14, 2016. In response to the report, a man opposing the relocation plan filed a freedom of information request two days later for "maritime security reports" submitted by the contractor to the defense bureau. Disclosure of a large portion of the documents he requested was denied by May 2017, with security concerns cited as the reason for the refusal.
The man again made a freedom of information request to the bureau on July 7, 2016, asking this time for any of his personal information held by the department to be disclosed. The bureau replied in September that no such records existed.
The Risingsun report dated Dec. 8, 2016, opened with the male protester's freedom of information requests and the company's responses. The document then stated the reason for the request as "to confirm if the maritime security reports contained personal information such as the names of skippers and crew members of protest ships based on the (company's protester) list, and if the defense bureau was aware of that information."
Moreover, the company report said, "adjustments had been completed by May so that all relevant descriptions were removed from documents submitted by this company to the Okinawa Defense Bureau."
The paper was addressed to the company's representative director from the senior official, who was the on-site manager of the maritime security work back then.
The senior Risingsun official denied to the Mainichi Shimbun that their company provided the defense bureau with the list of protesters, but acknowledged that maritime security reports originally submitted to the bureau had contained personal information of protestors. "We (redacted the personal information) after we were told (by the bureau) to submit the reports again."
A Defense Ministry official said that the ministry does not have the list, and that it is difficult to answer questions about the list. "It is not true that we instructed the collection of personal information (about the protestors) and its reporting to the government," the official said.
About the possibility of the security reports' rewriting, the male protestor told the Mainichi on Jan. 28 that such an action, if true, "is a violation of citizens' rights and very malicious."
(Japanese original by Yoshitake Matsuura and Masakatsu Yamasaki, Osaka City News Department)