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Panel approves state secrets rules

A Japanese government panel has approved draft rules under the state secrets protection law. The draft includes standards for designating and declassifying secrets.

The law enacted in December 2013 allows the government to designate as special secrets national security information considered especially confidential.

But critics are concerned the controversial secrecy law will undermine the public's right to know.

On Thursday, the experts' panel approved the draft rules submitted by the government.

Under the proposed rules, the government will designate the minimum amount of information as secrets for the shortest amount of time as possible.
The draft rules say only the heads of 19 ministries and government agencies, including the defense and foreign ministries, can designate sensitive information as special secrets.

The draft plan also lists 55 categories of information that will qualify as special secrets. Classified information provided by foreign governments and the intelligence and surveillance activities of the Self Defense-Forces are among the categories.

Also subject to protection under the law are the capabilities and use of submarines and aircraft, as well as information gathered using radio waves and satellites.

The government also plans to conduct screening on those who will be given access to state secrets.

Their backgrounds will be checked, including criminal records and financial situation.
Under the law, leakers of state secrets would face a maximum prison term of 10 years.

The draft also says the government will set up a Cabinet Office system to impose strict checks on how the secrecy law will be applied.

The Cabinet plans to approve the draft rules after hearing public opinions on the matter. The government wants the law to come into effect by the end of this year.

Jul. 17, 2014 - Updated 06:16 UTC