The Japanese government’s IT Strategy Headquarter is considering amendments to existing laws regarding the protection and security of personal information. Nevertheless, several problems continue to stall progress.
Corporations involved in the discussion are primarily concerned with the economic benefits of big data utilization, such as extracting individual user history records to develop marketing strategies. It is in the best interest of businesses to have the most flexible data laws possible, and so it is a challenge to balance their needs with the best interest of consumers.
The government is also struggling to reach a consensus regarding the definition of key terms that underpin the new data laws. An agreement must be reached on a model for a consumer consent protocol for the disclosure of personal information by companies and service providers. There have also been debates on whether anonymous information, in which the name of the user is not recorded, can also be regarded as personal information.
Finally, while the government has declared its intention to adopt a framework in line with the OECD revised privacy guidelines, it is not clear how this will be done in practice. The personal data protection and privacy laws in place in the European Union (EU) might serve as a good model for Japan. However, the EU has implemented strict regulations which prohibit the external transfer of data to outside countries, which is inconsistent with Japanese business interests.
It is critical to complete the legislative process and amend the laws to reflect modern international standards. Many Japanese industries are currently facing a development bottleneck until the data rules are changed and the the lack of access to data information resources is crippling their international competitiveness. Internally, industries such as the health sector would also greatly benefit from the easy utilization of personal data without privacy concerns.
For corporations, the resolution of the privacy law reform process must come swiftly, as the final details of these new rules could mean an exponential difference in the amount of investment required and in the potential profits involved in big data management.
A fundamental issue in Japan’s privacy debate is the structure and powers to be given the new supervisory agency, which will administer any reforms. Japanese ministries are very jealous of their prerogatives and the decentralized nature of Japan’s government goes against the consolidation of powers in a single Privacy Commission along the lines seen in the EU.