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16 November 2018 | 0

Billy MacInnesThere has been much astonishment in Japan at the confession by the minister in charge of the country’s cybersecurity that he has never used a computer in his professional life. According to a report in The Guardian, Yoshitaka Sakurada, 68, deputy chief of the government’s cybersecurity strategy office, made the following reply to an opposition question in the lower house: “Since the age of 25, I have instructed my employees and secretaries, so I don’t use computers myself.”

Now I can understand why opposition figures found his reply so astonishing, with one stating it “was unbelievable that someone who has not touched computers is responsible for cybersecurity policies”.

It’s probably more unbelievable that someone who is 68 has managed to avoid using computers at work for 43 years. How? And if the last time he used a computer was 43 years ago, what on earth was he using?

But is it really that amazing that someone who doesn’t use a computer is in charge of cybersecurity? For instance, does the minister in charge of aviation need to be able to fly a plane? Is it a requirement that the minister for fisheries needs to be able to skipper a trawler? Or that the minister for finance has held a position in banking?

While it’s not ideal that the minister in charge of cybersecurity doesn’t use a computer, there’s no arguing with the fact that not using a computer makes him very secure against cyber threats. That said, it doesn’t mean his employee and secretaries aren’t vulnerable.

Not having a computer should not disqualify him automatically from his position if he has a grasp of the cyber security issues confronting his country. One thing that suggests that grasp might be a tad flaky is his apparent ignorance of what a USB drive is.

Still, the point is that someone can have a grasp of cybersecurity issues without using computers just as a defence secretary can be briefed on the state of his or her country’s military and its strategic strengths and weaknesses without having to personally fire a missile or drive a tank. And don’t forget, you can have a minister in charge of cybersecurity who is an ardent user of computers and technology but is completely incompetent.

The only issue then is whether ministers are competent or not. It’s quite possible Sakurada could fail that test as well given that The Guardian report cites an occasion when he blamed a lacklustre performance in parliament on the fact that the opposition MP questioning him had not given him prior notice of the questions she planned to ask.

A cynic might think Sakurada’s appointment suggests cybersecurity is not high on the list of priorities for the Japanese government. But the alternative could be that the department that coordinates Japan’s cybersecurity is so well-prepared and organised that it really doesn’t matter who leads it. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

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