Drone restrictions reform could inhibit press freedom and citizens’ access to information

Drone restrictions reform could inhibit press freedom and citizens’ access to information

On March 26 a truck deposits soil into the land reclamation area in Henoko, Nago City (Photograph taken via small drone)

May 12, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Saki Yoshida

The Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) is advancing construction, such as building seawalls and depositing soil, to entrench the “outer moats” of the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF). Photographs taken from drones have become a precious method by which to record and communicate the status of construction progress. The Ryukyu Shimpo has also gathered data while aboard boats at the site.

Limited Visibility

In April citizens boarded boats and protested against FRF construction near the shore portion of Henoko in Nago City, saying things like, “Heed popular will against the base,” and “Stop dropping crushed rock [into the ocean].” The sound of rock hitting rock resounded in the air as cranes dropped crushed rock into the ocean from on top of the K8 seawall located on the East side of Cape Henoko. Citizens kept on protesting, raising their fists into the air.

On March 28 this truck probably made soil deposits at the land reclamation area. It stopped at the seawall and could not be observed once inside the area.

Since the ODB began making soil deposits in March, dump trucks have been seen hauling soil to the land reclamation area and making ongoing soil deposits into the ocean. From the ocean, it is difficult to tell how much soil is being transported or the state of affairs within the seawalls.

Effects of the Reform Bill

The reform bill on current drone regulations in Japan is aimed at banning drone flying in the water and air space provided to the U.S. military.

As entering U.S. military bases is restricted, aerial photography has become a means of collecting data. If aerial photography of the FRF construction site were banned, it would be difficult for the OPG, as it insists upon, to be informed on red soil runoff and the progress of FRF construction. This is an attempt to veil the situation in Henoko, which has drawn a lot of attention from both Okinawan and Japanese citizens.

Observing the bases is permitted, so the reform bill will make monitoring more difficult. It will warrant the U.S. military to not display what it does not want to show, which risks reducing the freedom of the press. This could lead to citizens no longer being able to exercise their right to access information. These dangers sneaking up on the citizens are very real.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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