Editorial: Revised drone law is bad legislation that infringes on the right to information

May 18, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo

A terrible law which conceals the reality of the U.S. bases in Okinawa has been passed. An amendment to a drone regulation law that prohibits small unmanned drones from flying over U.S. military bases in Japan and Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) facilities was recently passed in the House of Councillors by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led coalition.

The law restricts drone flights within a roughly 300 meter perimeter of facilities and land designated by the Minister of Defense. Prior approval from the facility management will be needed in order to fly. The penalty for breaking this law is a maximum one-year prison sentence and 500,000 yen fine. Police and JSDF officials are allowed to confiscate and destroy the drones of apprehended lawbreakers.

The biggest problem with this law is that, under the guise of preventing terrorism, it infringes on Japanese citizen’s right to information. If these drones are prohibited from taking aerial photographs, it severely restricts the information gathering capabilities of news organizations. This results in a veil being lowered over the bases and their surrounding areas, making it difficult to grasp the situations at these places.

The group that bears the brunt of the effects of these new laws are the people of Okinawa, who have had 70% of all of U.S. military installations in Japan thrust upon them, and are forced to live in the shadow of the bases.

Soon, the Japanese government will designate the no-fly zones, and possible locations include the 32 U.S. military installations and their surroundings, 27 nautical areas such as off the coast of Camp Schwab, and 20 zones of airspace.

Even if drones are used according to regulations, it is possible that the confiscation of private drones could become a daily occurrence, as facility management can do so at their discretion.

The countless problems that emanate from the bases will become hard to oversee, and residents will be placed even further outside the curtain. There are concerns that when disaster happens, it will be difficult to quickly get a grasp of the damage.

The U.S. has been petitioning Japan to outlaw drone flights around the bases. This amendment is Japan’s friendly response to this request. It can only be seen as Japan prioritizing the whims of the United States over their own citizen’s right to know.

The Ministry of Defense has stated that they requested the U.S. make judgements that respect the freedom of the press, but this appears to be no more than the construction of an alibi.

This is made apparent by the LDP’s rejection of a proposed amendment put forth by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), which created a rule that recognized flights for journalistic purposes. The LDP have stated this was done at the behest of the Abe administration.

If a major incident occurs in or around a U.S. military base, will the U.S. military actually allow Japanese news organizations to take aerial photographs by drone? Instead, won’t this incentivize them to try and conceal it?

The fear is that the U.S. military will use this new law to further escalate their outrageous behavior with their new lack of oversight. Is undeniable that part of this is an attempt to “cover up” the activity at U.S. military bases by both the Japanese and American governments.

Does the Japanese government want to regress the country to pre-war times, when laws that restricted photography around bases existed? We absolutely cannot approve of a posture by the Japanese government that cedes the rights of Japanese citizens to the United States.

(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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