My Number: A New Identification System from October 2015

  • What is a Personal Identification Number?

    In most countries, every citizen or resident has a personal identification number that is registered with the government and the relevant authorities. The main purpose is to have a centralized number that can be easily tracked across all matters of an official capacity, such as taxes, pension or healthcare related issues.

    It also facilitates theadministrative process in providing a standard key for updating or retrieving data. An example is the social security number in the States. Interestingly, the UK’s National Insurance Number or NINO is similar to Japan’s situation in that it is used to register state benefits but is not considered proof of identity. So what then, at least until October 2015, is used as a means of identification in Japan?

    The current Identification System

    There are currently 4 types of identification that are used over a variety of administrative procedures: the basic resident registration card (juki card 住基カード for the Japanese and zairyu card 在留カード for foreigners), the hanko, the insurance card and the driver’s license (same as the UK).

    A Japanese citizen is not required to carry identification on him at any time. The basic resident registration card is registered with the prefecture municipality and is a photo ID that holds various personal details.

    A hanko 判子, or personal seal, is registered with the municipality and is the official stamp that represents a person in highly important matters such as opening a bank account, establishing a company, or registering a marriage. There are also personal hanko, which are unofficial and may be used for example when receiving mail parcels.

    The insurance card or hokenshou 保険証 is used in healthcare matters, but may also be used in a mobile phone line application, for example.

    Before 2003 when the basic resident registration card was introduced, the driver’s license was the only photo ID card available and hence valued by the Japanese. Many Japanese obasan or housewives have licenses but do not drive on a regular basis.

    About the New System

    As such, from October 2015 onwards, all residents in Japan (that includes foreigners who have a legal address and have resided for more than 3 months) will be issued a 12-digit national ID number called “My Number”, and an ID card in January 2016. This number will be used in social security administration, taxation and disaster response matters across an integrated system. This, of course, comes with pros and cons: administrative processes will undoubtedly be streamlined, and this large resource pool of data may be tapped on to provide much more insight into demographics. But at the same time, there are heightened concerns about security and the risk of infringement of privacy, and personal data misuse or even fraud. People are still cautious after the Japan Pension Service scandal that caused the private data of 1.35 million people to be leaked. The activities of a resident may also be easily tracked and viewed holistically; people who hold a brokerage account are hereafter required to link their personal ID number to the account.

    This is a double-edged sword that affects people worldwide. Do the administrative pros outweigh the privacy and security risks introduced? What do you think of this matter?

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