The famously regimented Japanese are showing some individualist spirit in a fight against a new national ID system.
The program, called Juki Net, assigns every Japanese resident an 11-digit number. It is meant to help the government centralize the computer networks that track citizens' personal data. Currently it is used for 93 government services, most prominently for issuing proof-of-residence documents, which are needed to obtain driver's licenses and open bank accounts, among other things. A bill now under consideration would extend the number's use to 175 more functions, including passports. Electronic ID cards to go with the numbers are planned for August 2003.
Six administrative areas of Japan, home to 4 million citizens, have refused to join the network. They cite the lack of any law to protect privacy, despite the fact that previous prime ministers swore Juki Net would not be launched without such safeguards. Many Japanese also fear government agents or others might access the data for illegitimate purposes.
A gang of demonstrators, some in cow costumes, others in prison stripes, hit the streets of Tokyo in August to tear up the official notices assigning them their numbers. The bovine outfits alluded to the 10-digit number system the Japanese government created for cattle in response to a mad cow disease scare. One protest Web site in Japan offered a pithy slogan: "Ten digits for cows; 11 digits for people."