Urgently Protect Competitiveness in Face of Technology Information Leaks

Reuters file photo
SoftBank Corp’s logo is pictured at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, February 4, 2021.

If information on technology, which is a source of competitiveness, is leaked, it is not only companies that are harmed — the foundation of national strength can also be undermined. Each company must make every possible effort to prevent such leaks.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has indicted a former employee of SoftBank Corp. for violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Law by unlawfully removing secret information, including information related to base stations for the 5G standard that enables high-speed, large-capacity communications.

After getting hold of the information, the man moved to Rakuten Mobile Inc., one of SoftBank’s rival firms. SoftBank reportedly intends to file a lawsuit against Rakuten Mobile, demanding that the company stop using the information and dispose of it. But Rakuten Mobile has rebuffed SoftBank, saying it has not been confirmed that the information was used for business purposes.

In Japan, the development of 5G base stations has been delayed and mobile phone carriers are hastening to establish more of them. If confidential information is leaked to a rival company, it could undermine the environment for fair competition. Investigative authorities need to clarify the background of the leak and how the information was actually used.

According to a government survey, employees or former employees were involved in about 30% of cases of secret information being leaked. The survey also showed that there are many cases in which they took such information with them when they changed jobs or retired.

The man who allegedly leaked SoftBank’s trade secrets broke a pledge of confidentiality he had made with SoftBank at the time of his retirement. Competition for human resources is heating up in the information technology and communications sectors. Thorough measures should be taken to make corporations strictly observe the code of professional ethics in order to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Leaks to overseas companies, as well as to other domestic firms, are frequent. Last year, an incident came to light in which another former SoftBank employee leaked confidential information at the request of a former Russian diplomat. It will be necessary for the company to reexamine whether there are any faults in its information management.

In autumn last year, police sent papers to prosecutors on a former researcher at Sekisui Chemical Co. on charges of leaking information about the company’s original technology regarding smartphone to a Chinese company.

Superior technology held by small and midsize firms is also becoming a target for information leaks. If technology is leaked in fields in which countries are competing against each other, it could undermine Japan’s international competitiveness. The leaks that have been brought to light are just the tip of the iceberg.

Strengthening measures to prevent technology information from being leaked is urgent. It is necessary to clarify the information to be protected first, and then take such steps as encrypting data and restricting access rights. It is vital to make arrangements to check suspicious access to servers, so that leaks can be detected as soon as possible.

The government needs to step up its support for small and midsize companies that are lagging behind in taking countermeasures in this respect.

In Japan, many engineers have been laid off due to a slump in business. It is important to evaluate their job performance fairly and treat them appropriately. It should not be forgotten that building a relationship of trust could deter the loss of human resources and information leaks.