National

My Number law takes effect amid privacy fears

Kyodo

With the My Number law taking effect Monday, the government has kicked off the controversial personal identification system to unify the administration of every resident’s official services and records, and will start sending numbers out to tens of thousands of households.

The numbers, which take effect in January to hopefully enhance the efficiency of administrative services, including taxation and the provision of social welfare benefits, are expected to reach some 55 million households on a tsuchi kaado (notification card) bearing 12 digits through registered mail between mid-October and the end of November.

Preparations for the system have been years in the making and have faced strong public resistance. The government is under pressure to handle the numbers carefully amid concerns that personal information could be leaked via use of the ID numbers.

In response to criticism that local governments and businesses are behind in work to introduce the numbers and that the central government has not provided residents with sufficient information, the government organized a meeting Monday of ministry officials tasked with pursuing measures to ensure better understanding of the new system.

Passed in 2013, the My Number law initially establishes links between separate personal information on taxation, social security and disaster relief benefits held by the central and local governments.

The system is supposed to help authorities combat tax evasion and illicit receipt of benefits, as well as simplify procedures for users of these governmental services.

The government will start linking My Numbers to individual bank accounts, initially with the permission of account holders, to help keep track of the assets of individuals for taxation purposes. It hopes to eventually make the linkage mandatory.

For their part, businesses will be obliged starting next year to collect the My Numbers of its employees, including both regular and part-timers, along with their dependents, and record them on the income tax forms they submit to tax offices.

After receiving the tsuuchi kaado, which is only for providing notification of the numbers, individuals starting in January can ask their local government to provide them with a kojin bango kaado (individual number card) bearing their face photo that can function as an ID card, at no cost.

The government aims to expand the available uses of this card. For example, it plans to make it possible to use the card to receive national health insurance benefits, which now require presentation of a hokensho (health insurance certificate) card.

Concerns remain over the potential leakage of personal information linked to My Numbers, especially after a massive personal information leakage from the Japan Pension Service earlier this year, in which the government was blasted for its poor protection of information.

Critics, including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and consumer groups, have expressed fears over closer monitoring of individuals by the government and violations of privacy.

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