Japan Digital ID

Japan intensifies push for public support of digital IDs

Japan is stepping up its efforts to digitize. It has told a reluctant public that they must sign up for digital IDs, or lose their access to public health insurance.

The initiative, as the name suggests, is about allocating numbers to people. This is similar to Social Security numbers in America. Many Japanese are concerned that the information could be misused, or that their data might be stolen. Some people view My Number as a violation of their privacy rights.

The 2016 system has not fully taken off. Fax machines are still very common in Japan, but many Japanese do their business in person and with cash. While some bureaucratic procedures can still be completed online, many Japanese offices require “inkan,” which are stamps to identify the office. They also insist that people bring paper forms to their offices.

The government now asks people to apply to get My Number cards with photos and microchips. These cards will be linked to driver’s licenses as well as public health insurance plans. The current health insurance cards, which do not have photos, will be withdrawn in 2024. Instead, people will need to use My Number cards.

This has sparked a backlash. An online petition calling for the continuation of current health cards attracted more than 100,000 signatures in just a few days.

Opponents of the changes claim that the current system works well for decades, and going digital would mean extra work at a time when the pandemic continues to strain the medical system.

The reluctance of the government to move digitally extends far beyond the health system. Many Japanese are skeptical about the government’s handling of data after numerous scandals involving leaks and other errors. Many Japanese are also concerned about government overreach. This is partly due to the legacy of authoritarian regimes that existed before and after World War II.

Saeko Fujimori works in the music copyright industry and said that she is supposed to obtain My Number information from people she deals with. However, many are reluctant to give it out. No one is surprised that she is having trouble getting this information considering how unpopular it can be.

Fujimori said that the card has a microchip inside, which could lead to fraud. He also holds a My Number but does not intend on getting the new card. “If a machine reads all of the information, it can also lead to errors in the medical sector.”

Fujimori stated that if this were coming from a trusted leadership and the economy was thriving we might think about it. But not now.

For people to accept these changes, something must happen, as it took a terrible defeat in World War II to make Japan an economic powerhouse.

He said, “There is resistance everywhere.”

The Japanese take pride in their meticulous handcraft work and many Japanese people also dedicate themselves to keeping records and filing away documents.

“There are too many people concerned about their jobs disappearing.” These people see digitization in a negation of their past work,” Watanabe said. He spells his last name with a “v”, instead of the “b”.

It is very tedious and analog to digitize an existing My Number. You must complete and return the forms by mail. The government extended the initial deadline for last month, but only half of the Japanese population has a My Number.

Nobi Hayashi (a technology consultant) said that “they keep failing in any digital, and we have no memory of successful digital transformations by the government.”

Hayashi mentioned Cocoa as an example of a recent example, the government’s COVID-19 tracing app. This proved ineffective and unpopular. He believes that digital promotion should be more vision-driven.

Hayashi stated, “They don’t show a larger picture or don’t have one.”

Koichi Kurosawa is the secretary-general of the National Confederation of Trade Unions. This 1 million-member union group of labor unions said that digitization would make people happier if it made their jobs easier and more efficient. However, it was doing the exact opposite in many Japanese workplaces.

He said that people feel it is about allocating numbers to people in the same way that teams have numbers on their uniforms. They fear it will result in tighter surveillance.

He said this in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Yojiro MADEDA, a Nagasaki University cooperative research fellow who studies local governments, believes digitization is necessary. My Number is the first step in that direction.

Maeda stated, “You just need to do it.”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed concern about My Number cards on Monday. He informed Parliament about the plans to phase out the old cards for health insurance but said that the government would make arrangements for people to continue to use public health insurance if they have a plan.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Taro Kono, Japan’s Minister for Digital Affairs, stated that more needs to be done to convince people about the benefits of digitalization.

We need to develop new infrastructure to create a digital society. Kono stated that My Number cards could be used as a passport to open these doors. “We must win people’s trust so My Number cards can be used in all situations.”

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