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Laurie Clarke

Reporter

New UK-Japan trade deal set to protect business encryption keys

The UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with Japan is taking shape, with both countries agreeing to advanced digital standards that ban either government from demanding companies to hand over encryption keys (used to guard proprietary tech and data), disclose algorithms, or set up local data servers.

According to Nikkei Asian Review, such measures are expected to take effect from early 2021, when the end of the Brexit transition stage is over. The ban on demanding companies to disclose encryption keys goes a step further than the economic partnership agreement between Japan and the EU, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which only bans asking companies to disclose source code. The same stipulations were enshrined in a digital US-Japan trade deal which came into effect in January.

Following the TPP, neither country will force the other to set up data servers at their borders, better ensuring the free flow of data. The Japan Times reports that the bilateral trade agreement as a whole could be agreed by the end of July. The aim is to have it secured as soon as possible so that it can be ratified at Japan’s parliamentary session in the Autumn.

Hiroshi Matsuura, Japan’s chief negotiator for trade talks with Britain, acknowledged to JT that digital trade would be an area where both countries could agree on a higher level of deal. Japan is also particularly keen to secure at least the same automobile tariffs as it has in its existing European Union trade agreement.

A UK government policy paper on the Japan trade deal notes that on digital trade: “Ambitious digital provisions, including supporting the free flow of data between Japan and the UK, can help us take the lead on innovation, supporting the development of important emerging technologies such as blockchain, driverless cars and quantum computing.”

A closer digital relationship with Japan could be one upshot of the UK’s exit from the EU, and the jettisoning of Huawei from the UK’s 5G network. Shifting relations with China have prompted ideas for new transnational technology partnerships in the wake of this decision. One of these is adding Japan to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance to make it ‘Six Eyes’ and using this as a basis for such a partnership.

The UK’s Huawei decision is emblematic of the new tech Cold War