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Japan’s digital ID card gets emergency review amid data leaks

Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida has ordered an emergency review of the nation’s ID Cards, amid revelations of glitches and data leaks that threaten the government’s digital services push.

The “My Number” card is unique identification for all Japanese residents and is necessary to access some government services. The government plans to use the cards – which are equipped with NFC chips – in an authentication-as-a-service offering that private businesses can use. My Number will also replace health insurance cards.

But the cards are also flaky. Japanese media reports that people with similar names are receiving cards intended for other people, while some recipients found the card links to records describing someone else.

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The potential for identity fraud – or worse – means confidence in the cards has dropped, and ditching current health insurance cards has become unpopular.

In remarks at a Wednesday press conference, PM Kishida announced a review of the My Number system and ordered the relevant department to make it a priority comparable with government responses to COVID-19.

That’s a slightly odd choice of metaphor, as Japan’s immature digital government services were widely blamed for its slow response to the pandemic.

The PM also announced that health insurance cards would persist until 2025 – a year longer than planned – to ease public concerns.

“Ensuring public trust is essential for the transition to a digital society,” he said. “The government will make all-out efforts to regain the trust of the people as soon as possible.”

Kishida also reiterated his intention “to promote digitalization in Japan, which has become lagging behind other countries in response to the novel coronavirus.”

That refrain is a familiar one from Japanese leaders: former prime minster Yoshihide Suga expressed similar sentiments on taking the top job in 2020.

While Japan established a digital transformation agency on his watch, the year after his departure from the top job Japan re-wrote laws requiring the use of floppy disks for some dealings with government.

At his presser yesterday, PM Kishida expressed his desire to press ahead, framing Japan’s digital transformation as part of an overall reform agenda – alongside investments in tech manufacturing and measures to reduce the ageing of the nation’s population. ®