Information Management Must Meet International Standards

A situation must be avoided in which Japanese companies are treated unfavorably when jointly developing cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum technology, as well as when receiving orders from foreign governments. Establishing an information security system is an urgent task.

The government has begun considering establishing a security clearance system to certify people to be allowed to have access to sensitive information on advanced technologies and security and to issue licenses to certified people. The government aims to establish legislation in 2024 following discussions by a panel of experts.

Technologies developed by the private sector, such as AI and drones, have been adapted for military use. It is understandable that the government aims to create a system to prevent technological information that is important for national security from being leaked from the private sector.

The government enacted the Law on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets in 2013 and designated crucial information on defense and security as “specially designated secrets,” limiting who can handle such information. This mainly applies to central government officials.

Many countries in the West have established certification systems that also cover nongovernmental persons. The United States, for example, divides the importance of information into “top secret,” “secret” and “confidential,” and access is limited to qualified people in each category. The number of people who have received certification for this security clearance program is said to be about 4.2 million.

Japan is only the nation among member countries of the G7 that does not have a system for granting qualifications to a broad range of nongovernmental persons.

The lack of a certification system for access to important information has caused various adverse effects.

Some foreign nations stipulate the presence of qualified individuals as a condition for bidding, fearing the leak of sensitive information. At a meeting of the government’s expert panel, an executive of a manufacturing company called a security clearance system a necessity, saying, “Japanese companies are not competing on a level playing field overseas.”

There reportedly have been some cases in which Japanese researchers were denied participation in international conferences on advanced technologies.

Japanese companies and researchers being excluded from overseas procurement and international joint development because of the lack of a security clearance system cannot be overlooked. The government needs to establish an information management system that meets international standards.

While some in industrial circles are calling for the introduction of a qualification system, others are concerned that the system could hinder free economic activity. The government should carefully explain the significance of the system and work to gain the understanding of companies.

Some are also concerned that the legislation for the qualification system may infringe on the privacy of individuals.

The secrets protection law stipulates that after obtaining the consent of an individual, a total of seven factors, including criminal record, financial status and a history of possible mental disorder, must be investigated when certifying persons to handle important information. The new system could perhaps also follow this mechanism.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2023)