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Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010

EDITORIAL

Coast guard leaker docked

The Japan Coast Guard on Wednesday suspended for one year a coast guard navigation officer who on Nov. 4 leaked to the Internet the video footage of the Sept. 7 collisions between a Chinese trawler and two Japan Coast Guard cutters near the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa Prefecture. But he was allowed to retire at his request. The government had withheld the footage from the public to avoid angering China.

The Metropolitan Police Department the same day turned papers on the officer, Mr. Masaharu Isshiki, to the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office for allegedly violating the National Public Services Law, which prohibits public servants from divulging secrets obtained in the course of their work. The prosecution is expected to suspend indictment against him.

The coast guard did not dismiss Mr. Isshiki since it became clear that the video footage remained visible for about five days from some 10,000 computers used by coast guard members, that 36 members viewed the footage and that 17 of them, including Mr. Isshiki, downloaded it. Apparently the coast guard was not cautious enough.

This fact would make it difficult for the prosecution to assert that the video footage was a secret. Mr. Isshiki saved the footage on a USB data storage device in mid-October. Only on Oct. 7, the Kan Cabinet decided not to make public the video footage. Transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, who has authority over the coast guard, ordered "thorough management" of the footage as late as Oct. 18.

As the nation was rocked by the leak of the Senkaku incident footage, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku proposed meting out stricter punishment for public servants who divulge secrets. The government also has set up a panel to improve management of information in ministries and agencies as well as relevant laws.

Weight should be given to building a system that is effective in preventing a leak of important information, rather than making penalties harsher for public servants who leak secrets. Taking concrete steps to strengthen information security is much more important than doling out harsher punishment.



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