Tokyo Notes

Senkaku Tape Leak No Surprise

The Japanese officer who released the controversial boat crash footage claims it wasn’t confidential – or well-protected.

Despite being ordered to keep the Senkaku boat collision footage under wraps, the Japan Coast Guard appears to have done surprisingly little to stop it from being leaked. At least, this is the image reportedly being painted by the coast guard officer who claims to have released the footage on the Internet: Almost anyone onboard his ship could watch the video using the boat’s networked computers, the 43-year-old officer has been quoted as saying. He’s also reportedly said that the footage was not treated as confidential on his Kobe Coast Guard patrol boat.

As Andy pointed out last week, it was inevitable in the age of YouTube that we Netizens would sooner or later get to see the images of the colliding boats. But for a coast guard member in Kobe and his colleagues—with no direct connection with the case—to have such easy access to the footage, makes you wonder how it even took as long as it did, to get out. If the comments are true, they certainly make a mockery of the government’s condescending attempts to keep it out of the public realm.

It’s not surprising then that chief government spokesman Yoshito Sengoku has been calling for the Japan Coast Guard’s head on a platter for failing to take adequate measures to stop the leak. All the same, since the government didn’t order the coast guard to keep a tight lid on the images until October 18, well over a month after the collision took place, it was probably already too late for the coast guard to control the spread of the footage within its organization—even if the controversy surrounding the images should have made it obvious that extra caution was needed.

Still, it could be argued that the recent leaking of counterterrorism documents from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police was more dangerous, since it potentially put informants’ lives at risk in addition to damaging the international trustworthiness of Japanese authorities in keeping sensitive information under control.

But Sengoku has yet to call for the metropolitan police chief’s resignation. To be fair, unlike the coast guard, the police hadn’t been given a specific order from the government about this particular document, unlike the Senkaku collision footage.

Even so, while public officials should comply with their obligations to keep confidential information secret, there will be some people out there nodding their heads in agreement, when hearing of the navigator’s defiant assertion that he’s not committed a crime since what he did was in the public’s greater interest.