Science & Technology

Japan to Implement National ID Numbers For All Residents

Previously implemented a different system a decade ago



A bill to set up a national identification number system in Japan cleared the upper house of parliament (the Diet) after passing the lower house last month. The Emperor's "approval" of legislation is purely symbolic so the bill is set to become law. From the Japan Times:

The system, to be introduced in January 2016, will assign a "my number" to each citizen starting around fall 2015 to integrate all of their financial information. This is expected to help public offices collect information more accurately and make it easier to distribute welfare benefits and tax credits to citizens.

Individual ID numbers will be assigned to foreign residents as well, except for short-term visitors.

It's actually not the first time Japan has dabbled with a national ID number system. A March op-ed from Sentaku Magazine (via the Japan Times) explains concerns the "my number" system was devised as a boon for the IT industry:

Koji Ishimura, a professor of tax laws at Hakuoh University, says it would be anachronistic for Japan to introduce a new national ID numbering system at a time when other countries are giving such systems a second look [for privacy and security reasons].

"I cannot think of anything other than the interests of the IT industry as a factor in pushing such a scheme," he says, "because once it is launched, the industry will enjoy enormous business opportunities, larger than those created by the Basic Resident Register Network system" (started in 2002), which assigns an 11-digit number to every citizen.

This BRRN system, which cost the government a huge sum of money, was initially hailed as the way to improve social security services, but in reality it has proved to be of little value.

As if oblivious to this failure, the government is now trying to introduce an entirely new numbering system on top of the existing BRRN. This has led a well-informed journalist to criticize the government's scheme as a "wasteful public works project" that will necessitate enormous yearly maintenance costs, which in turn will benefit only the IT industry.

Wikipedia identifies identity numbers in at least 66 countries. In America, the Social Security number's become a de facto ID, and helps fuel identity theft, which cost Americans more than $1 billion in 2011.