Wed, Mar 27, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Cabinet to take up state secrets law

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Cabinet is scheduled to review a draft of a state secrets protection law at its weekly meeting today.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on Monday called for the passage of a state secrets protection law and government information access law as soon as possible.

Although a state secrets protection law was not listed on the Cabinet's agenda, sources said it would be included with other items to be discussed at today's meeting.

"The Ministry of Justice had sent the draft bill to us a long time ago, before the scandal surrounding the National Security Bureau broke," the source said. "The bill is identical to the one proposed during the previous legislative session."

The draft bill was returned to the Cabinet after failing to pass in the previous legislature.

According to the draft, state secrets would be categorized into three levels: "top secret," "highly confidential" and "confidential."

"Top secret" information would be kept from the public for at least 30 years. For "highly confidential" information the limit would be 20 years and for "confidential" information it would be 10 years.

The limits could be extended to 90, 60, and 30 years respectively, if necessary.

In addition, those found to have deliberately leaked state secrets could face a prison sentence of between three years and 10 years. Those found to have accidentally leaked state secrets could face a jail term of up to two years or a fine of up to NT$200,000.

The Cabinet might also draw up a draft of the government information access law at its meeting today, the source said.

The president on Monday spoke for the first time about the scandal surrounding the National Security Bureau, in which media reports said the agency had kept two secret accounts containing NT$3.5 billion that were beyond legislative oversight.

In a bid to reform the nation's intelligence-gathering agencies, the president said the government must hasten their reform and allow closer legislative scrutiny.

"No one can use national security as an excuse to suffocate democracy. Neither can anyone take freedom of the press as an excuse to hurt national security," he said.

He also called on establishing a firm legal basis for the institutionalization of intelligence services.

"Related bills -- including the state secrets protection law and government information access law -- should be passed as soon as possible," the president said.

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