Tougher rules on protecting classified info eyed
The government vowed steps Thursday to toughen the law and current system for managing classified information in the wake of recent leaks of investigative data at home and U.S. diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks.
The decision was made by the first meeting of a government panel tasked with improving the handling of classified information, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan set up the panel after the release onto the Internet last month of sealed video footage showing September collisions involving a Chinese trawler and two Japan Coast Guard cutters during a run-in near the Senkaku Islands that reignited a territorial row between Asia's two largest economies.
The meeting was also held at a time when Japanese officials, as with many others around the world, are concerned about the release of thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables by the confidential information-divulging WikiLeaks website.
"In recent years, information technology and the (digital) network society have been developing significantly and there is a question about whether the government has appropriately responded to this kind of changing environment," Sengoku, who heads the panel, said at the outset of the meeting, which was opened to reporters.
The panel plans to put together proposals by next spring, according to government officials.
After the meeting, Sengoku told a news conference the public's right to information and freedom of the press are "the basics of modern society but it may well be that a certain amount of restrictions are necessary."
Critics are concerned about possible actions by the government to impose stricter discipline on officials regarding information management, saying this could run counter to the public's right to know.
Video clips running for about 44 minutes, taken at the time of the ship collisions, were posted on YouTube in early November by a Japan Coast Guard navigator not involved in the run-in but who had internal access to the footage.
The collisions, which led to the brief arrest of the trawler's captain, strained diplomatic ties between Japan and China.
Sengoku, who strongly opposed disclosing video footage of the Sept. 7 collisions, shot by the coast guard, has been under pressure in recent weeks to leave the Cabinet, with opposition parties criticizing him for infringing on the people's right to know and others trying to hold him responsible for the guardsman's video leak on You Tube.