The response to this year’s national census, the first allowing people across the country to answer online, has exceeded the government’s expectations while also raising fresh worries over sloppy handling of personal information.

More than 19 million households responded online during the 11-day window that ended Sunday, nearly double the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s target of 10 million.

The ministry has been conducting the census every five years since 1920 to study the nation’s population, and calls it “the most important statistics survey” for future policies, including welfare services and disaster prevention. It is supposed to cover every resident and household in the country, regardless of nationality.

An online response system was first used in Tokyo in 2010 on an experimental basis. The internal affairs ministry rolled it out for all prefectures this time, allowing people to answer questions via the Internet about their age, occupation and the number of members in their household.

The ministry distributed an information packet by hand to all households that included an ID code and password for online users.

Some people complained, however, that the method had security flaws.

Twitter user @ta1000islands, for example, expressed concern about the possible theft of the ID code and password, posting a photo on Sept. 12 of multiple unsealed blue online survey envelopes sticking out of mailboxes at his apartment building.

“The paper with the password for the online survey was not in my mailbox, but (looking at this) I can’t judge whether they forgot to deliver it from the beginning or whether it’s been stolen,” the Twitter user posted. “Isn’t it possible for someone else to answer (the survey) if my password is stolen?”

During a news conference on Sept. 15, internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi tried to play down the incident, saying the ID codes and passwords are just temporary reference numbers and do not include any of the respondents’ personal information.

Takaichi further stated that the census answers will not be accessible later by a third party, even if the ID code and password are stolen, as the survey asks all respondents to change the password when they send in their data.

In a separate incident, officials in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, announced Monday that documents containing private information from 100 households in the city that answered the survey online were temporarily lost. The information included name, address and number of people in each household.

A 34-year-old city official, who was drunk at the time, lost the bag containing the documents Saturday morning. The bag and the documents were returned to him Sunday night.

“As this was the very first nationwide online survey, we will use the experience of troubles and various opinions (given by people) during the research for the next time,” Takaichi said last week.

The preliminary result of the census, covering the population size and number of households nationwide and by municipalities, will be released in February, followed by detailed data such as age, occupation and number of children to be revealed by the end of October 2016.


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