Japan Businesses Call for Security Clearance System

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Japan Association of Corporate Executives Chairman Kengo Sakurada

Businesses are increasingly calling for the introduction of a clearance system to authorize access to sensitive information in the field of economic security, saying its lack has prevented Japanese companies from participating in joint projects with the United States, Britain and other countries.

Under the system, the government will screen individuals and authorize those who qualify to access sensitive information, such as that related to national security.

“Japanese companies are treated unfavorably compared with U.S. and British companies in bidding conducted by foreign governments,” said a person linked to a major electronics manufacturer involved in the defense industry.

In cutting-edge fields such as artificial intelligence and space, the global trend is for industry, academia and government to collaborate on “dual-use” research that can be used for both national security and business purposes. If Japanese companies cannot participate in such international joint development, they might lose business opportunities.

Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) published an opinion in February last year calling for the introduction of a security clearance system.

“The border between security and economy is increasingly blurred, and thus it is inevitable” to introduce such a system, Keizai Doyukai Chairman Kengo Sakurada said at a press conference on Feb. 28.

New businesses have emerged in relation to the system in the United States, such as job information websites that specialize in hiring people with certain levels of security clearance.

There are also concerns, however — dual use provides business opportunities, but it may also expand the definition of sensitive information. If access to information is restricted too much, it may harm companies’ activities.

An official at a major electronics company involved in the defense industry said, “If it’s unclear what information is to be protected, it will be difficult to participate in the system.”

In the United States and other countries, background checks are conducted on civilians who are authorized to access sensitive information. “In Japan, many employees may be uncomfortable with this,” said an official of another major electronics company.

Kai Iwasaki, a consultant at The Japan Research Institute, Ltd., said: ”With the introduction of the system, companies will have more opportunities to come into contact with a wider range of information. The system must be designed to ensure information security while also being used for corporate growth.”