Right to Know
Chapter 3 of the Constitution prescribes the rights and duties of the people. Because this chapter lists the types of human rights that are guaranteed, it is also called the “human rights catalogue.” Whether or not the new concept of human rights was adequately guaranteed in the Constitution, and whether or not the Constitution should be revised and included new provisions became points of contention. The debate over the pros and cons of constitutional revision were mainly about “new human rights” such as the “right to privacy,” the “right to know” and the “right to the environment.” This debate occurred when society was undergoing major changes due to urbanization and informatization. This resulted in an awareness that it might be possible to fully protect these rights. On the other hand, there is also a view that constitutional revision is not necessary because there is a basis for all the “new human rights” in the existing articles.
As a fundamental right of citizens from democratic nations, “the right to know” allows people to access public information that is deemed necessary, and it encompasses information from the realms of government to everyday life. In the 1950s, the “freedom of information” was widely acknowledged after a movement by American journalists who demanded the freedom to report and gather news materials. In Japan, people first started directing their attention to this right during the 1972 Ministry of Foreign Affairs Leaked Telegram Incident (the “Nishiyama Incident”). During that incident, information about a secret agreement that was exchanged between Japan and the US while they were negotiating the Okinawa Reversion Agreement was leaked. As a result, a ministry secretary and a journalist were arrested for leaking state secrets and abetting that crime. In 1999, the Act on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs was passed. This law recognized the right to request the disclosure of administrative documents, with the exception of documents containing personal information or top secret information. Later, in 2013 during the Abe Shinzō administration, the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, a law that allowed the government to designate information related to national security as “specially designated secrets” and protected that information from public disclosure. That law was criticized for infringing on the “right to know.” Some argued that the “freedom of speech” in Article 21 guarantees the “right to know.”
With the exception of the time when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was in power (2009-2012), the Kōmeitō—which formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 1999—has taken a comparatively careful stance on constitutional revision. However, this does not mean that the Kōmeitō is against constitutional revision itself. Instead, it has taken the position that it supports “lasting peace,” “respect for fundamental human rights,” and “the sovereignty of the people”—notions that are embodied in the Constitution—while also supporting the “adding to the Constitution” (kaken) based on new demands from society caused by the changing times. Some examples of new ideas or rights that the Kōmeitō believes should be added to the constitution are the “right to the environment,” “privacy,” and “local autonomy.”