How Serious Were Japan’s Information Leaks?

20 August 2014

By Lawrence Repeta

The author teaches law at Meiji University and is a regular contributor. Japan in 2013 passed an Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets and is now developing the implementing regulations. The law was recently critiqued by the United National Human Rights Committee. (See report.)

Does Japan really have an information security problem? How many serious leaks of highly sensitive information have been identified?

 Prime Minister Abe delivered his answer to these questions in an exchange during Diet debate of the secrecy bill on October 2013. In response to a question from an opposition party member, Abe said: “[W]e are aware of five cases involving the leak of important information by government employees during the past fifteen years. The occurrence of such cases is highly regrettable.” When reporters followed up with questions to the Cabinet Office, they were given a list of these cases.[1]

Of the five, two resulted in criminal prosecutions. The first occurred in 2000 when an officer in the Naval Self-Defense Force was apprehended after delivering confidential documents to a Russian embassy official for cash. The officer was terminated and the court issued a sentence of ten months imprisonment.[2]

The second case was heavily reported at the time because it involved confidential information related to systems on highly sophisticated Aegis naval destroyers sold to the Japanese navy by American defense contractors. The prosecution followed a January 2007 arrest of a naval officer accused of improperly transmitting the information to other naval personnel without clearance to receive it. This was the first case prosecuted under a 1954 statute that specifically applies to leaks of information received from the United States.[3] The leaker was found guilty and the court rendered a judgment of two years and six months imprisonment, suspended for four years. In deciding to suspend the sentence, perhaps the court was influenced by an odd feature of the case: the prosecution could not show that the classified information ever left the hands of government officials.[4]

The other three cases occurred between 2008 and 2010. Leakers were fired or suspended, but the government did not think them sufficiently serious to warrant criminal prosecution. One of the three cases was very heavily reported and is generally considered to have provided a strong impetus to creation of a revised secrecy law. This was the on-line leak of a video showing a collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and a Japan naval ship near the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands in 2010.

The video itself was not classified, so there was a weak basis for prosecution. Moreover, open government activists assert that this is precisely the kind of information which should be made available to the people. It concerns a matter of great national importance and is unlikely to contain any information that might damage national security if disclosed to the public. The video was replayed endlessly by national television broadcasters without damage to Japan’s security.[5]

Another case cited by some observers concerns the accidental leak of Tokyo Metropolitan Police files through file-sharing software called “Winny.” See

[1] Mainichi Shimbun, October 18, 2013.


[3] Law No. 166 of 1954. This statute implements Japan’s obligations under the US-Japan Mutudal Defense Assistance Agreement, signed on March 8, 1954.

[4] The AP report on the court decision is available here: Additional details are found in this Kyodo News report:

[5] See, e.g., Numerous copies of this footage are currently available on the Internet. See, e.g.,


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