Japanese parliamentarians outraged after minister admits he has no technological competency
The Japanese cybersecurity minister has come under scrutiny during the past two weeks, for details relating to his use of a computer - or lack thereof.
Yoshitaka Sakurada, 68, admitted during question period in a lower house session that he doesn’t use a computer.
“I’ve been independent since I was 25 and have always directed my staff and secretaries to do that kind of thing,” Sakurada replied. “I’ve never used a computer!”, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted him saying.
The minister also appeared confused when asked about very basic technologies, such as a USB. When parliamentarians asked whether USB drives were used in Japan’s nuclear plants.
“I don’t know details well... So how about having an expert answer your question if necessary, how’s that?”
While his comments were largely criticized by parliamentarians, many citizens took to Twitter to poke fun at Sakurada’s lack of basic technological know-how.
“If a hacker targets this Minister Sakurada, they wouldn’t be able to steal any information. Indeed, it might be the strongest kind of security!”
Sakurada appears to be aware of the public’s interest in his computer habits. In a house meeting on November 21, Sakura responded to his recent viral notoriety: “My name is known by people around the world to that extent? So I’m famous now, whether that’s good or bad.”
During the meeting, many ministers inquired whether he possessed the necessary skills to act as minister of cyber security. In response, Sakurada said, “I believe my ability to make decisions is excellent,” although he did admit that he lacked a rudimentary understanding of cyber security.
“I myself am not that familiar with cybersecurity matters,” he told the committee, as reported by the Japan Times. “My biggest job (as Cabinet minister) is to read out written replies (prepared by bureaucrats) without making any mistakes,” he said.
When bureaucrats commented on the fact that his lack of technological understanding could cause economic loss to Japan, Sakurada said, “I’m here because a Cabinet minister is needed.”
Sakurada also expanded on his use of technology in general.
“I use a smartphone many times a day because it’s very useful... I’ve never felt any inconvenience from not being able to type by myself.”
“It’s incredible that a person who has never used a computer is in charge of cybersecurity policies,” a member of the opposition said in response to Sakurada’s remarks.
This is not the first time the minister has come under fire. Mr Sakurada is also a board member of the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, in charge of organizing Tokyo 2020. When questioned as to the total economic burden the Olympic games would place on Japan’s central government, Sakurada responded, “1 500 yen” - equaling just over $17. While members of the public could be excused for missing a decimal place or two, Sakurada was off by a factor of 100 million as the actual budgeted allocation was $150 billion yen.
In responding to criticism regarding his response to Olympic questioning, Sakurada explained that the questions had not been given to him beforehand, causing confusion upon receiving them.
“Since there was no prior notice about the questions, I had no idea what would be asked at the session,” quoted The Asahi Shimbun.
It should be noted that questions in the lower house do not require submission before session, although the parliamentarian who inquired about Olympic funding confirmed they had been.
While Sakurada’s commentary could be viewed as simple naivety, his remarks have often wandered into the field of insult and offence. In 2016, he was scrutinized for describing “comfort women” (who were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by occupying Japanese troops during World War II) as “professional prostitutes”. South Koreans were understandably enraged by the remarks.
Less than three weeks prior to the remarks, South Korea and Japan had held a historic meeting on the issue. During the meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered an apology, and the Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kashida admitted its military was guilty of sex trafficking and slavery during war times. Japan also promised to provide $11.2 million to provide support to the 46 surviving Korean victims.
When questioned about Sakurada’s remarks, South Korean officials stated there was no need for a response to “reckless remarks by a lawmaker who is shameless in front of history.”
All tallied, Sakurada’s ineptitudes and remarks over the years have not only become an annoyance to local parliamentarians, but have also caused animosity within the international community. At this point, Japan’s central government has released no statement on Sakurada’s latest remarks, signalling acceptance and compliance with the minister’s Luddism by one of the world’s most technologically advanced societies.