National / Social Issues

Demonstrators protest My Number at rally in Shibuya

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

With the distribution of the controversial My Number identification code only a few weeks away, hundreds of protesters marched through Tokyo’s Shibuya district Saturday in a last-ditch effort to stop a program they say invades people’s privacy.

Chanting “Stop My Number now!” and “No dangerous My Number card!” protesters called for postponement of the 12-digit number slated for mid-October. Organizers put the turnout at 400.

The government will start sending all residents in Japan, including non-Japanese, an identification number it says is intended to spare them the hassle of doing paperwork to handle administrative procedures.

Addressing a crowd before the rally, Yasuhiko Tajima, a professor of media law at Sophia University, charged that the My Number program is “unconstitutional,” citing its gross violation of privacy rights.

The system was initially supposed to be used only for tax, social security and similar matters. But even before the program’s official launch in January, the government amended the My Number law in early September to allow the number to be linked to bank accounts and other personal records, including vaccinations.

“It is very undemocratic of the government to pass an ‘amendment’ when the system itself hasn’t begun yet,” Tajima said.

Noting media reports that NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii is mulling using the system to more effectively collect fees from viewers, Tajima said the program is now “unstoppable.”

Like Tajima, critics of My Number — largely considered the equivalent of the Social Security number in the United States — warn that privacy breaches and abuses of power are just around the corner.

One of the protesters, a 35-year-old man from Tokyo, said he is worried about the accelerating pace at which the government is attempting to keep tabs on people.

“I’m worried that the government may try to use the system in the future to make lists of young, healthy people fit for conscription when it eventually amends the Constitution,” he said.

Hitoshi Ogawa, 60, said he is worried My Number might be abused by the government to collect the most sensitive details of citizens’ lives, from health records to political ideology.

Before the amendment, an Upper House committee adopted a supplementary resolution that, among other things, calls for the future use of biometric records for a My Number card people would be “encouraged” to carry starting in January.

In a sign of trouble ahead, the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan is warning on its website of a rise in cases involving fake phone calls from bogus municipal officials trying to steal people’s My Number or other information, including bank account numbers and details on savings and insurance contracts.