【Editorial】Security Clearance Bill Understanding of Security Systems Needed to Meet Global Standards

The government has approved the Critical Economic and Security Information Protection and Utilization Bill at the Cabinet meeting and submitted it to the Diet, in order to establish a security clearance system under which the government will certify qualified personnel to handle critical economic and security information.

The new system is expected to facilitate the participation of private companies and other entities in collaborative international research on advanced technologies. To this end, it is a prerequisite that the system is up to global standards that gains the trust of other countries. It is our hope that the bill is enacted as soon as possible with the public’s understanding.

Restricted Access to Critical Information

The handling of information deemed critical for national security is stipulated in the Specially Designated Secrets Act, which went into effect in 2014, covering the four areas of diplomacy, defense, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism. Civil servants and employees of certain industries in the private sector are subject to clearances, and are liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years if they leak information designated as a specified secret.

The newly proposed system aims to protect information concerning economic security, such as supply chains and cybersecurity, by classifying it into multiple tiers based on significance. In addition to civil servants, the scope of the system will possibly encompass employees of private companies or of facilities operated by private entities, without regard to industry.

The establishment of this system was prompted in part by voices from the business community. The absence of a comparable system in Japan has previously hindered dealings with overseas defense and intelligence-related firms, and in certain instances, companies have faced challenges in participating in collaborative international research due to a lack of credibility.

Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) is advocating for the new system to be “an effective, internationally recognized framework” that prevents companies from facing disadvantageous risks. They are urging clear criteria regarding the classification of important information, as well as seamless integration with the Specially Designated Secrets system and the new system, which will be used concurrently.

During the screening process conducted with the individual’s consent, personal history including criminal and disciplinary records, mental health status, alcohol consumption habits, and citizenship of family members will be examined. While investigations for Specially Designated Secrets are carried out by respective government agencies under uniform standards, the new system will centralize investigation functions under the Cabinet Office. Given concerns that these investigations and their results may be vulnerable to cyber-attacks, stringent management protocols are deemed necessary.

Some have raised concerns that background checks may infringe on human rights and privacy. As the integration of military capabilities and non-military tactics such as cyber warfare and propaganda, known as hybrid warfare, becomes increasingly prevalent, a system to restrict access to vital information, including economic security, is indispensable. Security clearances for this purpose are deemed necessary. However, we would like to urge the government to provide thorough explanations to prevent undue anxiety and division among the public.

Enactment of an Anti-Espionage Law Also Required

Japan is the only member among the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations that does not have a security clearance system in place in the area of economic security. The same is true of an anti-espionage law, which are designed to crack down on foreign espionage. Japan’s information protection system has been cited as a point of concern regarding collaborative efforts with the Five Eyes, a framework of the five main Anglosphere nations for sharing classified information. The enactment of this law should also be hastened.

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