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Japan trying to get it right with national digital ID, public losing faith

Japan trying to get it right with national digital ID, public losing faith

After a series of high-profile data leaks and registration errors in Japan’s digital IDs, the program is undergoing a government inspection to prevent further problems and public backlash.

Tuesday, government officials issued an interim report that found 1,000 new cases in which the My Number national identification cards were mistakenly linked with the medical information of others. Kyodo News reports that 7,400 cases have already been made public, .

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed ministers to examine all data on My Number cards by the end of November.

The troubled digital ID system, which provides citizens and foreign residents with a 12-digit number linked to their personal data, has been one of the factors behind a significant drop in Kishida’s cabinet’s approval in recent months, according to Bloomberg. Last week, the prime minister apologized for problems with ID cards but said that he wouldn’t necessarily back down on plans for integrating them into the healthcare system.

“What Japan is aiming for is to become the world’s most advanced, smart government,” said Kishida. “To that end, we must work on digital infrastructure and government systems.”

My Number includes data such as photo and names and can be used to access government services, including tax and social security records, as well as some bank accounts. Citizens can choose to use face biometrics provided by RealNetworks.

As of late July, 77 percent of the population, 89 million people, had applied for the cards. But the system has met resistance, especially among Japan’s aging population.

To kickstart use of the cards and a larger digital transformation, the government came up with a plan to merge health insurance cards with the My Number cards last October. Digital Minister Taro Kono proposed integrating national insurance certificates with My Number cards by fall 2024.

That plan, however, has caused a backlash. In February, doctors took the government to court over My Number use. The Japan Times cited a June survey of medical and dental practitioners that found nearly 60 percent of Japanese medical institutions had experienced problems, including insurance data linked to the wrong card.

Many of the issues with erroneous linking are connected with manual data entry. Parents, for instance, have been applying for cards for their children, but then registering their own bank accounts with their children’s accounts, in an effort to state benefits directly. Some residents, however, have discovered their ID cards are linked to unrelated personal information. While 55 million people have linked their cards to their bank accounts, at least 130,000 cases resulted in someone other than the cardholder being linked.

This week’s interim report also showed that 20 percent of prefecture and major cities have registered My Number cards with someone else’s personal information on disability certificates.

Polls conducted in July by media outlets Yomiuri and NNN also showed that 58 percent of respondents were against using ID cards for healthcare purposes, while 80 percent said they did not believe that the government could fix the problem. Kishida’s approval was at 35 percent, the lowest since winning election in 2021.

Despite the setbacks, government officials say they will continue merging the My Number system with health insurance cards by the deadline. They want to neutralize criticism that they lag behind peer countries in digitalization. Kishida said that those who do not complete the My Number merge will receive a separate certificate that could be used for a maximum of five years.

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