Cabinet OKs proposals to amend information laws but privacy fears linger


The Cabinet on Tuesday approved proposals to amend two laws to facilitate the corporate use of people’s private information and improve tax collection even as doubts remain about how securely identities will be protected.

Experts say the increase in prying might alienate taxpayers.

One of the proposed amendments, which could be submitted to the Diet as early as Tuesday, would revise the citizen numbering system, dubbed My Number, in a way that allows the government to gain easier access to people’s bank account data by asking them to submit it on a voluntary basis.

The other addresses the law on private information protection and is aimed at making it easier for businesses to use such private data while stiffening the penalties for abusing it.

Under the My Number system, all citizens will be assigned a 12-digit identification number for taxation and other administrative purposes starting in October. The government will start using the numbers, which will be distributed on cards that can be used to file tax returns, open bank accounts and perform other administrative services, in January 2016.

Under the amendment approved by the Cabinet, however, citizens will be able to link their bank account numbers with their individual 12-digit My Number starting in 2018. The government will consider making this mandatory from 2021.

The proposal to amend the law on private information protection, meanwhile, would allow businesses to use people’s personal information without their consent if the data are processed to remove their names and other sensitive content that could be used to identify them.

The proposals come in response to corporate demand to tap “big data,” the massive volumes of digital information generated each day from people’s participation in the economy. Businesses want to tap big data because it is believed to be a gold mine for marketers.

In light of last year’s massive theft of customer data from education services provider Benesse Holdings Inc., the amendment includes stiffer penalties for leaking private data for profit, and requires that the government set up a panel on protecting private data that would be empowered to undertake searches.

Despite stiffer penalties for abusers, however, the proposed amendment to the privacy protection law would not ensure the data can’t be used by third parties without one’s knowledge, experts point out.

Even if one’s name is removed from the data before it is distributed, there is still a risk that the person linked to it can be identified by comparing it with other information available on the Internet, experts say.

The public has grown skeptical about modern-day management policies and data protection since the Benesse theft, and the government faces the difficult task of simultaneously helping big business tap big data while developing a system that can ensure that same data will be protected.