011 Behind closed doors―secrecy surrounding a non-disclosure agreement

The date set for judging the entries for the logo competition for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was drawing near. On November 11, 2014, I received an email from an Organizing Committee official. The late night transmission had two subjects. The first: “We have decided to keep a record of the evaluation on the day of the judging in the form of documentary footage and photos. Please be informed that there will be filming and still photography of the evaluation on the day of the judging.” So, I was being told about something that had already been decided. The second was a notification of a more serious issue with the title, “Request for agreeing to the contents of and signing a non-disclosure agreement”, followed by the words: “From the Organizing Committee to All; We have decided to ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Please refer to the attached document, the original of which has been sent to you by post. We would appreciate it very much if you would bring the signed document on the day of the judging.” Though politely worded, it was the rudeness of the method chosen for this notice that surprised me. Considering the weight of the contents, a late night email sent out just six days before the judging, seemed hardly appropriate. The following is the response I sent the next day.

(…) “I am writing to you in response to the email I received yesterday. I was under the impression that I was appointed this role at this time with full trust, backed by my career, my character and personality. But now I am in receipt of a document, an agreement that seems like a blow to human dignity, at this timing when we are so close to the judging, sent to me by a one-sided email. I am surprised by both the contents of the document and the method of transmission.

Are you implying that I cannot participate in the evaluation unless I sign the document? I would like to hear from you directly, about this matter, on the day of the judging. 

Furthermore, as a judge on the panel I am being prompted to sign a “non-disclosure document”; I am being notified that the Organizing Committee has decided to record the evaluation process of the selection of the Olympics logo by film and still photos—in a one-sided manner.  Promises, one after another, are coming at me after I have agreed to be part of the judging—and right before the screening is to take place. I feel uncomfortable with this form of communication which seems inappropriate. 

Just because I received your email and read it, it does not mean that I understood the contents and have agreed to it. Please give me some more time to give thought to the matter.

I wondered if this was the right way, to send an email response, regarding a matter of such gravity, but considering the circumstances, with little time left, I am resorting to email to inform you of my impressions.

Keiko Hirano” (from original text)

I am going to give a short summary of the non-disclosure agreement that was sent to me: (…) A judge may not reveal any information that is not of the public domain (information regarding the evaluation) during the time of judging nor after the completion of the judging; such information must be kept confidential indefinitely, and must not be revealed to any third party, nor made public through newspapers, magazines, television, the internet and other media. Furthermore, if and when the Organizing Committee so requests, all records and information related to the evaluation must be returned or the data must be destroyed according to instructions given. If a judge breaches this agreement and discloses to a third party, or makes public information related to the evaluation, and if the breach of agreement by the said judge causes any damage to the Organizing Committee, the said judge may be held liable for such damages (…)  

Now if this “non-disclosure agreement” was a proper document—by which I mean an agreement of appropriate content—I would not have minded signing it, as needed. Even at our company, when we are working with another company on a joint-design project, at times, we exchange a non-disclosure agreement or a confidentiality agreement, in part, as a way to strengthen our relationship based on trust. So I am not making a point about refusing to sign all “non-disclosure agreements”. For me, the problem is the contents outlined in the agreement.

Of the material stated in the document, this is what I find most problematic: There is a section about not revealing information related to the judging—forever. One of the items listed as such information was “accounts of the judging process and the judging criteria”. In other words, according to this section that stated that judges were supposed to keep the crux of the judging a secret indefinitely, and upon signing the agreement, (judges were expected to) “never disclose information related to the judging unless such information is made public according to the intentions of the Organizing Committee”. A judge bound by this promise of eternal non-disclosure must live his or her life without ever divulging any information that was learned through the judging experience, even trivial stuff that need not be kept a secret. It is an unreasonable demand, making life most difficult for the judge. Why must a judge on the panel keep all accounts of the screening, the judging criteria a secret forever? Why clamp down on all possibilities for an open deliberation process? What is this about never disclosing information on the judging unless such information is “made public according to the intentions of the Organizing Committee”? What are these “intentions”? No matter how many times I reread this agreement, I could not understand the meaning of these parts; nor could I understand why “a judge must keep secret all accounts of the judging process and the judging criteria indefinitely”.

The proposed period for this secrecy was “indefinitely”—unbelievable. The agreement stated “All information related to the evaluation must be maintained as a secret….indefinitely.” How could anyone make such a promise? In fact, here I am at a crucial moment, where I am performing my duty to offer clear explanations in pursuit of accountability. But even then, I felt that there may come a time when I would be upheld for accountability. I didn’t want the agreement to come and haunt me, binding my actions; I wanted to avoid the pitfall. That is why I refused to sign the non-disclosure agreement. 

If there is a proper reason for having people related to the judging process sign a non-disclosure agreement, I think it should be done before the actual judging takes place. That makes sense. Considering these times, I am of the opinion that an appropriate non-disclosure agreement is actually necessary, and should be signed. In other competitions, there are cases where the names of the panel of judges are not revealed until the judging is completed. With a non-disclosure agreement in place, judges do not have discussions about the matter with people who may become entrants; they do not reveal or exchange any relevant information. Thus, the objective of a non-disclosure agreement lies in preventing information from leaking before the judging. In the current case, judges did not sign an agreement before the screening prohibiting exchange of information with entrants. So, in reality, even if there was a judge on the panel who committed such an act, there was no problem, legally speaking. If the signing of the non-disclosure agreement, as was proposed by the Organizing Committee just before the judging, had been concluded, we would have ended up in a strange, utterly confusing reversal of rules—it was perfectly all right to offer information before the judging, but once the judging took place, we could not, ever, speak of anything about the submitted works we saw, the exchanges we held, and such.

As for the signing of the non-disclosure agreement, at the end of the day, we did not sign the non-disclosure agreement. On the morning of the judging, I informed the other members on the panel of my decision of not signing the document and gave my reasons. Together with members who agreed with my opinion, we negotiated with the Organizing Committee. It was decided we need not submit a non-disclosure agreement. 

At the beginning, when the controversy over the official emblem of the Tokyo Olympics came to light, media reports favored the take that “judging took place behind closed doors”. I would say the words stated in the non-disclosure agreement are the specific embodiment of the secrecy, the symbolic closed doors. The accusations that “judging took place behind closed doors” is an expression that paints a physical picture of the closed nature. But rather, it was the underlying intentions, of trying to get the judges to commit to a promise, “the information on the judging…will be kept a secret indefinitely”, by forcing a non-disclosure agreement. That seems to symbolize the “closed doors” regarding the judging of the Tokyo Olympics emblem.

I wonder if the panel tasked with judging the new set of logos have actually signed a “non-disclosure agreement, of appropriate content”.

Keiko Hirano

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.