Most of the nation’s companies are struggling to find a way to securely store My Number — the new 12-digit social security key that will be used to access everyone’s income tax and bank account information starting next year.

The search for security is making life especially difficult for small and midsize firms, which account for about 99 percent of all companies in Japan.

“It’s a great burden on us,” said Masanori Okamura of ICT-Leasing, Inc., a Tokyo aviation firm with 15 employees.

“We are collecting information about how to accommodate the My Number system, like how to store data safely,” said Okamura, who started studying it late last month.

According to a survey by the nonprofit Japan Institute for Promotion of Digital Economy and Community, nearly 70 percent of the 3,386 firms who responded to the March to May survey had not begun preparing for My Number’s debut. This was especially true at small and midsize firms outside Tokyo.

Proponents of My Number hope the system will speed up Japan’s notoriously slow administrative customs with a comprehensive, streamlined ID system.

But most companies say it will only generate more work.

My Number “will not benefit most companies” in light of the time and energy needed to prepare for it, said Masami Komatsu, a senior manager in the ID Business Promotion Division of computer maker NEC Corp., which is holding seminars to teach companies about My Number.

State guidelines stipulate that all employers must designate a special area for handling the sensitive ID numbers and restrict access to it.

They also must eliminate any data related to them completely after a certain period of time once it becomes unnecessary, and maintain an access log to record who accessed which employee’s information, when, and for what purpose.

If personal data containing the ID numbers is leaked, the leaker will face up to four years in prison or a ¥2 million fine — about twice the penalty for leaks of other personal information.

Given this burden, it will be easier for companies to store the ID numbers digitally, rather than on paper, Komatsu said.

“What’s not good about paper is anyone can instantly take a photo with their smartphone and share it online, without even leaving a record,” Komatsu said. “But if stored electronically, access to personal information can be restricted and recorded in a log automatically so it’s easier to detect and prevent unauthorized access.”

But storing data electronically may put personal information at risk of being stolen by hackers.

In June, the hacking of the Japan Pension Service resulted in the public release of 1.25 million people’s pension data.

While this caused a delay in Diet deliberations on the new ID system, the My Number bills cleared the Diet in early September anyway.

In addition to installing a security system, companies will need to raise employee awareness and hammer out new regulations to ensure the data won’t get into the hands of strangers, Komatsu said.

“My Number isn’t just something that involves only a certain department within a company. It’s something that involves the entire company” he said.

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