secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

Archive for the ‘comparative secrecy’ Category

CFP / Secrecy and Society

Call for Papers for volume 1, issue 2 of Secrecy and Society on the subject of secrecy and authoritarianism.

This call for papers is a response to resurgent political trends, especially in the wake of recent world events and social movements. In Issue 2 of Secrecy and Society, we address the subject of secrecy and authoritarianism, including how ideology and popular beliefs are constituted through knowledge claims such as “alternative facts,” disinformation, disingenuous rhetoric, “populist conspiracy theory,” “post-truth,” and propaganda.

We welcome papers that also propose novel theories and methods that conceptualize these subjects. The inspiration for this special section is Richard Hofstadter’s paranoid style in politics, history as conspiracy, and ideas on anti-intellectualism. We encourage scholars, including doctoral students, from around the globe to submit their work.

In addition to papers on the theme of secrecy and authoritarianism, submissions that address any aspect of secrecy and society will be considered.

CFP is here.


Written by S.

February 25, 2017 at 1:07 am

Classified: Secrecy and The State In Modern Britain

Ran across this insightful interview conducted by J.P. O’Malley in The Spectator with Christopher Moran on his new book on British secrecy. I’m really excited to get the book as I’ve been interested in secrecy in the UK since reading Ken G. Robertson’s outstanding Public Secrets: A Study in the Development of Government Secrecy (Macmillan, 1982), David Vincent’s Culture of Secrecy: Britain, 1832-1998,  and Nicholas Wilkinson’s various works on the D-Notice system.

As someone who uses FOIA in the US on a regular basis, I found Moran’s comments on FOI (freedom of information releases in the UK through the Freedom of Information Act 2000) exceedingly interesting from a comparative perspective:

O’Malley: What has been your own experience of gleaning information since the act was implemented?

Moran: I would say my personal experience of requesting information has a success rate of 50/50. The only way to be successful with the Freedom of Information Act is to be very specific with your request. The problem is that unless someone from within Whitehall, or the national archives has told you a certain document exists: it’s very difficult to get information out of the system. To use the Freedom of Information Act and get proper results, you still have to rely on good contacts, and informants to let you know what is being held in the vaults.

Written by S.

November 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Lots of secrecy in the news

CMPs in the UK

From the October 14, 2012 The Guardian, an analysis of  “closed material procedures” (CMPs), or secret evidence that if disclosed might cause damage to national security or the public interest.

As proposed by the Justice and Security Bill, the BBC reports that the “final bill was confirmed in the Queen’s Speech of 9 May and was introduced to the House of Lords on 28 May”:

My government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.

From a comparative secrecy perspective, I wonder if CMPs are similar to the use of the state secrets privilege and the invocation of in camera proceedings (such as in  KASZA v. BROWNER) in the United States; I also wonder how the UK’s Official Secrets Act 1989 interfaces with the new information provisions of the  Justice and Security Bill.  Nevertheless, it is clear from the debate in the UK that the ability for public oversight,  and protection of human rights and freedom of information are at question under the Bill.


Update: More on CMPs, from Secret Justice, November 1, 2012.

Written by S.

October 15, 2012 at 3:55 am

Freedom of Information (FOI) in Japan

What has been characterized as secrecy* has run high during the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster, bringing into question the reliability of monitoring data and TEPCO’s management of the crisis.  Since March 11, radiation readings continue to be above background levels in many areas in eastern Japan surrounding the crippled plant. Uncertainty regarding the release of radionuclides and long term implications for both local and global human health and the environment seems to be one of the only certainties in the wake of the accident.

Freedom of information (FOI) laws in the U.S. and Japan are one remedy for citizens to learn of the ongoing disaster. There are a plethora of Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552) resources for U.S. citizens on the Web, including links to resources here at bkofsecrets.  As an example of FOIA, early in the accident, a group of public interest groups submitted a request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to understand the decision behind the evacuation of American citizens from Japan within a fifty mile radius of the reactor.

This short guide will hopefully encourage individuals – especially journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and concerned citizens who reside outside Japan – to submit freedom of information requests to Japanese ministries. In submitting requests on plant procedures, especially disaster plans and TEPCO’s consultation with various governments and nuclear agencies, a more complete picture of global impact of the disaster will take shape. Release of information might also contribute to continuing demand for data integration.

The Right to Know in Japan: FOI

The Act on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs (Act No. 42 of 1999, .pdf), also cited as Law Concerning Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs, went into effect April, 2001. Similar to FOIA in the United States, the law includes exemptions to information disclosure.

Article 4 of the Act, the Procedure for Requesting Disclosure, outlines the procedure for submitting a FOI request. Note that it is recommended that requesters submit titles of administrative documents (see (2), in bold, below).  However, other portions of (2) indicate that a description of the information will suffice: “other particulars that will suffice to specify the administrative documents relevant to the disclosure request.”

More on submitting requests and associated procedure:

1. A request for disclosure as provided for by the preceding Article (Hereinafter referred to as a “disclosure request.”) shall be submitted to the head of an administrative organ as a document (Hereinafter referred to as a “disclosure application.”) in which are entered the following items.

(1) The requester’s full name or title, along with a permanent address or place of residence, as well as the full name of a representative in the case of a corporation or other group.

(2) The titles of administrative documents or other particulars that will suffice to specify the administrative documents relevant to the disclosure request.

2. When the head of an administrative organ concludes that there is a deficiency in the form of the disclosure application, he or she may, fixing a suitable period of time, ask the person making the disclosure request (Hereinafter referred to as “the requester.”) to revise the request. In this case, the head of the administrative organ shall endeavor to put at the requester’s disposal information that will be helpful in the revision.

Article 10 of the Act outlines the time limits imposed on Japanese ministries in to address requests:

(Due Date for Disclosure Decisions, Etc.)

Article 10

(1) The decisions set forth in each items of the preceding Article (Hereinafter referred to as “disclosure decisions, etc.”) shall be made within thirty days from the date of a disclosure request. However, in the case that an amendment is requested pursuant to the provision of Article 4, paragraph 2, the number of days required for the amendment shall not be included within this period of time.

(2) Notwithstanding the provision of the preceding paragraph, when there are justifiable grounds such as difficulties arising from the conduct of business, the head of an administrative organ may extend the period of time prescribed in the same paragraph for up to thirty days. In this case, the head of an administrative organ shall without delay notify the requester in writing of the extended period and the grounds for the extension.

Article 18 describes the appeals process.


List of Ministries & Contact Information Additional Bodies

Freedom of Information in Prefectures

Article 41 of Japan’s freedom of information law, “Information Disclosure by Local Public Entities,”indicates that prefectures have their own info disclosure laws:

In keeping with the spirit of this law, local public entities shall strive to formulate and implement measures necessary for the disclosure of the information that they hold.

I couldn’t locate direct details on how to file a request in Fukushima Prefecture. Perhaps contacting Information Clearinghouse Japan, an NGO that deals with transparency in Japan, might yield an answer on how to submit a request on the accident and local conditions.

Further Information

Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center(Japan), Fukushima Nuclear Earthquake Disaster. Retrieved from

Japan, History & background of Japan’s freedom of information law. Retrieved from

Information Clearinghouse Japan. (2010, January 4). Statement seeking realization of “open government,” letter to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Retrieved from

Joho Kokai Shimin Center (Information Disclosure Citizens Center), has a wealth of information on how to use the Act (Repeta & Schultz, 2002). Although in Japanese, google translate can be used to piece together materials into English.

Legislation Japan, Lexadin, World Law Guide. Retrieved from

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare. Information about the Great East Japan Earthquake. Retrieved from

Repeta, L.J. (2006). Business confidentiality versus human health: the role of Japan’s information disclosure laws. Open Government: A Journal on Freedom of Information, 2(1), 1-32. Retrieved from

Repeta, L.J. (2003, August). Government transparency: Japan’s information disclosure law of 2001. Freedom of Information Review, Issue 106, 56-60. Retrieved from

Repeta, L. &  Schultz, D. M. (2002, May 23). Japanese government information: New rules for access, the 2001 Information Disclosure Law, and a comparison with the U.S. FOIA. National Security Archive.

Sunaoshi, I.(2001). Legal regulation of the disclosure of information to employees or prospective employees in Japan. 22 Comp. Lab. L. & Pol’y J. 585.

Tokyo Electric Power Company.  Retrieved from



* Secrecy is defined by sociologist Georg Simmel as “consciously willed concealment” of information (see p. 11, The sociology of secrecy and of secret societies, American Journal of Sociology 11 (1906): 441-498). However, can the lack of information – especially during ongoing disasters – be totally attributed to secrecy? The chaos described in the early hours of the accident suggest not only a lack of concerted disaster planning, but it appears that training and modeling anticipated none of what workers might encounter if an accident occurred. See my post on Three Mile Island accident, and work on (bureaucratic) communication and information flow during disasters by scholars such as Bill Freudenburg, Charles Perrow, James R. Chiles, Sheila Jasanoff, Diane Vaughan, and Edward Wenk on tradeoffs.

** The Investigation Committee on the Accidents at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company is charged with investigation of the accident. Prime Minister Naoto Kan heads the Committee. It isn’t clear if the Committee is located in the  TEPCO building or if  Japan’s freedom of information laws apply.

Thanks to Thomas M. Susman, Director, Governmental Affairs Office, American Bar Association for suggestions on sources.