A new personal identification system in Japan came into effect on Monday, stirring up controversy in the process. The “My Number ID” system will connect a person’s individual tax information, disaster relief benefits and social security benefits. Critics worry about the possibility of the government’s invasion of personal privacy as well the potential for personal information to be hacked.
Unlike social security numbers in the United States and national identification numbers in Europe, Japan has had no equivalent system. The new legislation will provide every Japanese citizen and foreign resident with a 12-digit ID number, which will reach 55 million households. The stated goal of the program is to make the administration of certain services more efficient, such as social welfare benefits and taxation. The program is also aimed at curbing benefit fraud and tax evasion.
However, the government intends to eventually extend the security system to bank accounts for the purpose of keeping track of assets to determine taxation liabilities. While this part of the program is voluntary beginning in 2018, it will likely become mandatory by 2021.
A number of critics gathered for demonstrations in Tokyo’s Shibuya district on Saturday to protest the program. Protesters shouted, “Stop My Number now!” and “No dangerous My Number card!”
Yasuhiko Tajima, professor of media law at Sophia University, quipped that the My Number program is “unconstitutional.” He further stated that, “It is very undemocratic of the government to pass an ‘amendment’ when the system itself hasn’t begun yet.”
Those opposed to the program believe the Japanese government may use the system to track the public in undisclosed ways. Some are concerned that it may be abused to collect citizens’ health records, political beliefs and other highly sensitive information.
There are also concerns that data leaks could occur. These fears have been heightened since the Japanese government revealed in June that the country’s pension system was hacked. The government reported that Japan’s Pension Service staff computers were hacked by an email virus which led to the leak of personal data of an estimated 1.25 million people.