Japan pushes the public to buy digital IDs


Japan has stepped up efforts to catch up with digitization by telling a reluctant public that they must sign up for a digital ID or could lose access to their public health insurance.

As the name suggests, this initiative is about assigning numbers to people, similar to Social Security numbers in the US Many Japanese are worried the information could be misused or their personal information. can be stolen. Some consider the My Number attempt to be a violation of their privacy.

So the system booted in 2016 was never fully functional. Fax machines are still popular, and many Japanese conduct most of their business in cash. Some bureaucracy can be done online, but many Japanese offices still require an “inkan,” or stamp for stamping, for identification, and require people to bring paper forms to the office.

The government is now requiring people to apply for a plastic My Number card, equipped with a microchip and photo, to link to driver’s licenses and public health insurance schemes. The health insurance card currently in use, without a photo, will be discontinued by the end of 2024. People will have to use a My Number card instead.

That sparked a backlash, with an online petition asking for the continuation of existing health cards attracting more than 100,000 signatures in a few days.

Opponents of the change say the current system has been working for decades and that going digital will require extra work at a time when the pandemic is still straining the health system.

But the reluctance to go digital extends beyond the healthcare system. After many scandals over leaks and other irregularities, many Japanese do not trust the government’s handling of data. They are also wary of excessive government outreach, partly a legacy of dictatorships before and during World War II.

Saeko Fujimori, who works in the music copyright business, said she has to get My Number information from people she deals with, but many people don’t provide that information. And no one was surprised that she had a hard time getting that information, given how poorly known it was.

“There is a chip in it, and that means there could be fraud,” said Fujimori, who has a My Number but has no intention of getting a new card. “If a machine is reading all the information, that could also lead to mistakes in the medical industry.”

“If this comes from a trustworthy leader and the economy is thriving, we might think about it, but not now,” said Fujimori.

Hidenori Watanave, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said something drastic had to happen for people to accept such changes, like Japan’s crushing defeat in World War II to transform itself into an economic powerhouse.

“There’s resistance going on everywhere,” he said.

The Japanese have traditionally prided themselves on meticulous, quality craftsmanship, and many also dedicate themselves to carefully keeping track of documents and storing them neatly.

“Too many people worry that their jobs will disappear,” says Watanave.

The existing My Number digitization process is time consuming and very similar. One must fill out and return mailed forms. Last month’s original deadline was extended, but only about half of Japan’s population has My Number, according to the government.

“They consistently fail in any digital sector and we have no memory of a successful government digital transformation,” said Nobi Hayashi, a consultant and technology expert. “.

Hayashi cites as a recent example Cocoa, the government’s COVID-19 tracking app, which has proven to be uncommon and often ineffective. He says digital promotion efforts need to be more “vision-oriented”.

“They don’t show a bigger picture, or they don’t,” says Hayashi.

Koichi Kurosawa, General Secretary at the National Federation of Trade Unions, a 1 million-member group of labor unions, said people would be happier with digitization if it made their jobs easier. and shorter, but it’s doing the opposite in many Japanese. Workplace.

“People feel this is about allocating numbers to people the way teams have numbers on their uniforms,” ​​he said. “They worry it will lead to more scrutiny.”

That’s why people say No to My Number,” he said in a phone interview with the Associated Press.

Yojiro Maeda, a research associate at Nagasaki University who studies local government, says digitization is essential and My Number is a step in the right direction.

“You just have to do it,” Maeda said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged concerns about the My Number card. He told lawmakers in Congress that the old health insurance card would be phased out, but the government would arrange for people to continue using their public health insurance if they were paying for one. medical program.

Japan’s minister of digital affairs, Taro Kono, admitted in a recent interview with the Associated Press that it is necessary to convince people of the benefits of going digital.

“To create a digital society, we need to work on developing new infrastructure. The My Number card can act as a passport that opens such doors,” Kono said. “We need to win people’s understanding so that the My Number card is used in all situations.”

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