Japanese activist challenges secrets law with whistleblower tool

TOKYO (REUTERS) - A Japanese Internet activist and academic is challenging a new state secrets law by setting up a website aimed at making it easier for government officials to leak sensitive information to the media without getting caught.

The website, unveiled on Friday, uses an open source platform called GlobaLeaks developed by the Europe-based Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights, said Masayuki Hatta, an economics lecturer at Surugadai University.

"I want to create a secure channel that people can use to transfer information without putting themselves in jeopardy," Mr Hatta told Reuters. "I'm not entirely against the protection of sensitive information, but I also believe the new law has many problems."

He said government officials and others could use the website to transfer documents to journalists who could then retrieve the digital leak with an access key.

The state-secrets law drafted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government went into effect last week after year-long protests against it.

The law sets prison terms of up to 10 years for public servants or others leaking state secrets, while journalists and others who encourage such leaks could be imprisoned for five years.

Critics say the government has not clarified how the law will be applied and say it will have a chilling effect on those who want to report misdeeds.

Reporters Without Borders has called the law "an unprecedented threat to freedom of information".

Officials at the Justice Ministry and Cabinet Office said they could not comment on Mr Hatta's project.

Mr Hatta, who unveiled the website at Tokyo's Waseda University, hopes to make the whistleblower platform a digital clearinghouse for sensitive information but said it would not publish anything on its own, setting it apart from WikiLeaks.

To access the site - 4ge3uua3uaxuhhaq.onion - users must go through the Internet privacy service The Onion Router (Tor).

Mr Hatta said he had consulted lawyers and believed he was protected under Article 21 of the Japanese constitution, which guarantees the freedom of press and the right to know.

Providing a tool for whistleblowing most likely would not be punishable under the state-secrets law, but proactively helping a whistleblower leak information may be punishable, said Yukiko Miki at Clearinghouse Japan, a non-profit organization that promotes information disclosure.