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Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010
Looking less like a secret
The Metropolitan Police Department and public prosecutors decided Monday not to arrest a Japan Coast Guard member who has allegedly confessed to having leaked video footage onto YouTube of the Sept. 7 collisions between a Chinese trawler and two JCG patrol ships off the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa Prefecture. The decision is based on investigative authorities' judgment that the JCG member, who submitted to interrogation voluntarily, will unlikely destroy evidence or run away.
He allegedly confessed that he had uploaded 44 minutes of video onto YouTube on the afternoon of Nov. 4 from an Internet cafe in Kobe and then deleted it on the morning of the next day. The video footage is identical with the video the Ishigaki Coast Guard Station in Okinawa Prefecture provided to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha. It became available to various sections of the JCG. The JCG member is suspected of having violated the duty of confidentiality under the National Public Service Law.
The MPD will send papers on the case to the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office and the latter will decide whether to indict the JCG member, chief navigator of the patrol boat Uranami of the Kobe Coast Guard Station. The most important issue facing public prosecutors is to decide whether the video footage constitutes a secret that deserves legal protection. The government stamping some item or a piece of information as a secret does not necessarily turn them into a state secret that public servants are banned from divulging. According to the 1977 Supreme Court precedent, an item or a piece of information can be regarded as a state secret only if (1) it is not known to the public and (2) its content or quality is such that, in substance, it deserves protection as a secret. It is highly problematic for a public servant to leak internal information unless it is real whistle blowing. But the prosecutors are likely to have a difficult time in making their judgment.
On Nov. 1, the government submitted a 6-minute, 50-second video sequence of the collision scenes — edited by the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office — to the Diet, and some 30 Diet members saw it. After some of them talked to the mass media, people got quite accurate reports of what happened between the Chinese trawler and the two JCG patrol ships. Even before the Diet showing, people knew the essence of what happened.
Therefore, it is unlikely that the 44-minute video footage uploaded by the JCG member has shown something that many people did not know before. It also has lost value as criminal evidence against the captain of the Chinese trawler. Although the captain was arrested the day after the collisions on suspicion of ramming his boat into the two JCG patrol ships, the Naha prosecution office released him Sept. 25 and is unlikely to indict him.
Clearly the video footage does not disclose such vital information as information on Japan's defense setup or sensitive diplomatic documents. The government refuses to release the video, apparently out of concern that doing so would provoke China. But it appears that the grounds for the refusal are weak.
The investigation has also shown that the management of the video footage by the Japan Coast Guard was lax. Unexpectedly it was found that the video footage in question came from video footage stored at the Japan Coast Guard Academy in Hiroshima Prefecture.
The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters provided it to the academy on Sept. 17 for analysis of the collisions. Since the volume of the data was large, the academy thought that the video data had not yet arrived. But it had actually been in the academy's shared holder for several days without access restrictions. During that period, a colleague of the JCG member who confessed to the YouTube uploading accessed the holder and downloaded the video onto a personal computer aboard the patrol boat Uranami. The JCG member obtained the video in mid-October by using a USB memory medium.
He said he wanted as many people as possible to know what is happening in Japan's territorial waters, make a judgment and then take action. He also said he now realizes that his action violated rules for public servants. His action should not be politically exploited. He deserves strict disciplinary punishment for his irregular action as a public servant.
But more important is the question of whether the government is equipped with a system that can effectively cope with a crisis like the Senkaku incident. Necessary information must be quickly sent to Cabinet ministers concerned and the prime minister and they must make a decision immediately while carefully considering possible effects it will have. Ministries concerned such as the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the transport ministry, which has the JCG under its jurisdiction, should examine what they did do and did not do in the Senkaku incident and set up functioning communication channels that will facilitate correct decision making.