National

Japan shifts toward digital storage of records after Moritomo, SDF and other scandals

JIJI

The government plans to shift toward digital management of most public records by the time the new National Archives of Japan building opens in fiscal 2026, aiming to prevent the record management scandals that have plagued the Abe government.

Such scandals include the Finance Ministry’s manipulation of documents related to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which was able to buy a plot of public land at a steep discount, and the Defense Ministry’s cover-up of daily activity reports written by Ground Self-Defense Force officers during overseas peacekeeping operations.

The government adopted a set of measures last July that included severe penalties for manipulating or hiding public records, as well as creating a system to digitally manage documents.

“Although regaining lost trust is extremely difficult, we must do it,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his Cabinet.

In a decision March 25, the government stipulated that administrative records should be “systematically managed, with electronic forms used as their originals and authentic copies.”

The government is to establish a system that automatically records when documents are stored, the names of the writers, dates of preparation, categorization and other information, and which repeats the process every time a record is modified.

As of fiscal 2016, there were an estimated 18.4 million national administrative records, 93.6 percent of which were kept on paper and 6.1 percent electronically.

At present, email messages are automatically deleted at some ministries and agencies after a set period of time to secure server capacity. The government will not adopt such a system for managing digital records, to avoid the risk of losing important information on the decision-making process.

The paper-based storage of records that are legally required or deemed essential in order to maintain value, such as documents signed and sealed by emperors and Cabinet meeting documents signed by ministers, will remain in place.

Continuing advances in electronic technology make it essential for the government to consider how best to store records on a long-term basis, officials said.

“Records written on washi (traditional handmade paper) can be stored for 1,000 years,” an official at the Cabinet Office said. “But for electronic (storage), it’s impossible to maintain the same format for 1,000 years.”

The government decision thus calls for studies to “realize the long-term stable use” of records.

The government will amend its guidelines and rules for record management by the end of fiscal 2019 to facilitate computerized management of administrative records, officials said.