TOKYO (AP) – Japan has stepped up its push to catch up on digitization by telling a reluctant public that they have to sign up for digital IDs or perhaps lose access to their public health insurance.
As the name suggests, the initiative is about assigning numbers to people, similar to social security numbers in the United States. Many Japanese fear that information may be misused or that their personal information may be stolen. Some see the My Number effort as a violation of their right to privacy.
So the system that kicked off in 2016 has never quite caught on. Faxes are still commonplace, and many Japanese do most of their business in person, with cash. Some paperwork can be done online, but many Japanese offices still require “inkan” or seals for stamping, for identification and insist that people bring paper forms into the offices.
Now the government is asking people to apply for plastic My Number cards with microchips and photos, to be linked to driving licenses and public health insurance plans. The health insurance cards now in use, without photos, will be discontinued at the end of 2024. People will need to use My Number cards instead.
This had a backlash, with an online petition calling for the continuation of current health cards that collected over 100,000 signatures in just a few days.
Opponents of the change say the current system has been working for decades and going digital would require extra work at a time when the pandemic is still putting a strain on the medical system.
But the reluctance to go digital goes beyond the healthcare system. After numerous leaks and other mistakes, many Japanese people are wary of government data handling. They are also wary of excessive government reach, partly a legacy of authoritarian regimes before and during World War II.
Saeko Fujimori, who works in the music copyright industry, said he should get information about my number from the people he deals with, but many refuse to distribute it. And no one is that surprised that she has a problem getting that information, given how unpopular she is.
“There’s a microchip inside, and that means there could be fraud,” said Fujimori, who has a My Number but doesn’t intend to get the new card. “If a machine reads all the information, it can lead to errors in the medical sector as well.”
“If this came from reliable leadership and the economy was thriving, we might think about it, but not now,” Fujimori said.
Something drastic may need to happen for people to accept such changes, just as it took a devastating defeat in World War II for Japan to develop into an economic powerhouse, said Hidenori Watanave, a professor at Tokyo University.
“There is resistance everywhere,” he said.
The Japanese have traditionally taken pride in meticulous workmanship and quality craftsmanship, and many are also dedicated to carefully keeping track of documents and filing them neatly.
“There are too many people worried that their work is going to disappear. These people see digitization as a negation of their past work, “said Watanave, who spells her surname with a” v “instead of the usual” b “.
The process of getting an existing My Number digitized takes a long time and a lot of analog, it turns out. Forms sent by post must be completed and returned. Last month’s initial deadline was extended, but only about half of Japan’s population has a My Number, according to the government.
“They keep failing at anything digital and we have no memories of a successful digital transformation by the government,” said Nobi Hayashi, consultant and tech expert.
Hayashi cited Cocoa, the government tracking app for COVID-19, as a recent example, which has proved unpopular and often ineffective. He says the digital promotion effort needs to be more “vision-driven”.
“They don’t show a bigger picture, or they don’t have one,” Hayashi said.
Koichi Kurosawa, general secretary of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, a 1 million-member union group, said people would be happier with digitization if it made their jobs easier and shorter, but many Japanese are doing exactly that. the opposite work environments.
“People think it’s about assigning numbers to people the way teams have numbers on their kits,” he said. “They are concerned it will lead to tighter surveillance.”
That’s why people say No to my number, he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Yojiro Maeda, a cooperative researcher at the University of Nagasaki who studies local governments, thinks digitization is necessary and My Number is a step in the right direction.
“You just have to do it,” Maeda said.
On Monday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged concerns about My Number cards. He told lawmakers in Parliament that old health insurance cards will be phased out, but the government will make sure people continue to use their public health insurance if they are paying for a health plan.
Japan’s minister of digital affairs, Taro Kono, acknowledged in a recent interview with the Associated Press that more is needed to convince people of the benefits of going digital.
“To create a digitized society, we need to work on developing new infrastructure. My number cards could act as a passport that will open such doors, “Kono said.” We need to gain people’s understanding so that My Number cards are used in all kinds of situations. “
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yuriageyama