Japan’s New National Identification Number

From October of this year, a national identification number will be introduced in Japan. And from 2016, Japanese citizens must use this number to receive and contribute to national pensions, to get a child-care allowance, and pay their taxes. The national identification number is very useful system because the government can track the provision of public services to individuals and use if for future planning. However, even though the system will start from this year, the government has not done enough to inform Japanese citizens as to the reasons for the change.

Looking at the Japanese Government IT Strategy Work Plan for 2014, the government says provide only limited information about national identification number and how it will be used. According to the work plan, the number will be used only for supporting public services and making them more convenient for users. While this may be the government’s intent we should consider problems that have occurred outside Japan with the reliance upon a national identification number.

For example in the U.S., the social security number is used for not only public services but also by businesses like insurance companies and banks. In Korea, even rental shops or social networking services use resident registration number to identify their users. Those countries have many problems with identify theft because of the reliance on a single number to identify citizens. For instance, in 2011, Chinese hackers stole 35 million resident registration numbers in Korea about 70% of the population.

Once a national identification number is introduced in Japan, these problems may also cause. It is possible that companies may start using the numbers for private business purposes. And even if companies do not do this, they will still have to keep and collect the numbers of their employees for tax purposes. If they fail to protect these numbers, they risk punishment.

In this situation, companies will need to hire IT security experts to protect their operations, but Japan does not currently have a sufficient number of IT engineers. This is a big problem.

So what should the government do? Here are two ideas.

First, the government should train more IT engineers. It means greater support to schools, universities, and graduate schools. But this will take time.

A second idea is to create a biometric IC rather than a simple number. Biological information like a fingerprint or face recognition can never be stolen. If Japan can develop a reliable system, it may also be able to export this technology.

The bottom line is that before the government starts using the national identification number, it needs to be sure that it is really safe and secure. I am not convinced.

Jo Okabe

Jo Okabe

Faculty of Law
Keio University
Jo is a member of Faculty of Law at Keio University.
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