The Abe administration has submitted a bill to the Diet to launch the “my number” system, under which each citizen and foreign resident would be issued an electronic chip-embedded ID card that includes the person’s facial photograph. The government claims that the ID number system, which would be used for taxation and social security purposes, would enhance fairness in taxation and efficiency in the distribution of social welfare resources.

The government hopes to start using the ID system in January 2016, but the system has many problems and risks. The Diet should discuss whether it is really needed.

Currently individual government organizations separately store information on citizens related to taxation, pension, medical and nursing-care services, etc. Under the new system, individuals would be issued a number based on the resident register code and the various data would be integrated onto a single ID card.

The government says that citizens would not need to prepare various administrative documents and would only have to show their ID cards when requesting various administrative and social welfare services. Management of payment records for pension premiums would be free from mistakes because the ID number would be permanent.

The convenience is accompanied by many problems and risks. One of the biggest worries is the leakage or theft of personal information, as frequently happens already online. Because the system covers all residents of Japan, information leakage would cause enormous damage. The bill envisages setting up a third-party independent committee to strengthen surveillance as well as punishing government employees involved in leakage with imprisonment of up to four years or a fine of up to ¥2 million.

One wonders whether this setup would be enough to prevent information leakage. There is also no guarantee that the computer system will be free of errors or immune to abuse.

Identity theft is another potential problem. Someone may pose as the cardholder and commit fraudulent acts causing financial and other damage. Such crimes are taking place in the United States, northern European countries and South Korea, where similar systems are in use.

The ID system would also enable citizens to access information related to personal taxation and social welfare benefits through the Internet. Wealthy people would likely have an advantage over ordinary workers because they have the know-how and means to get their taxes reduced.

Because the ID number would be based on the resident register code, people who currently do not have certificates of residence for various reasons may be excluded from administrative and social welfare services.

It is expected that construction of the system would cost ¥200 billion or more. The system would also have operating costs. First and foremost, the system would equip the government sector with the means to know a considerable amount about people’s lives and expand its control over the population. The Diet should carefully consider whether the ID system holds enough benefits for the people to outweigh its problems and risks.

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