Originally introduced in 2018 but mainly promoted since 2020, Japan’s My Number Card (hereafter referred to as MNC) was envisioned as a cutting-edge tool to foster the advancement of a digital society in Japan. The government’s objective was to enhance the convenience of citizens’ lives by integrating the 12-digit national identification number with the health insurance card system and other essential services. However, the card’s prospects have become uncertain due to a series of glitches that have come to light.
What is the Japanese My Number Card?
Prior to the introduction of the MNC, Japanese residents had only a few ways to identify themselves: the driving license and the health insurance card. Since 2015, every resident also has been assigned a 12-digit identification number, utilized by tax authorities, national health insurance, and local authorities during emergencies or significant crises.
The MNC displays the basic identification of a resident onto a physical card embedding an electronic chip. This card includes details such as the individual’s name, date of birth, individual My number, address, gender and ID picture.
What were the intended benefits of the MNC?
The primary goal was to streamline administrative processes and advance the digitalization of Japanese society by introducing a versatile, all-in-one card.The first step toward this goal was made by linking the MNC with health insurance data. The objective was to achieve better synchronization in the delivery of medical care.
Additional key advantages of the MNC, as presented by the government :
- Streamlined Online Administrative Procedures : The MNC allowed individuals to conveniently carry out select administrative procedures online, reducing the need for in-person visits and paperwork,
- Integration with Bank Accounts for Direct Aid : by linking the MNC to individuals’ bank accounts, it facilitated direct receipt of state financial aid, pensions, and benefits, simplifying the disbursement process,
- Secure Online Verification : The MNC enabled individuals to perform procedures requiring a high level of confidential online verification, ensuring secure access to sensitive transactions,
- Convenient Document Retrieval at Convenience Stores : Individuals could obtain specific official documents directly from convenience stores, offering a convenient alternative to traditional channels,
- Versatile Identification Document: Serving as an official identification document, the MNC card provided a means for individuals to validate their identity across various contexts.
Challenges encountered with the MNC:
Thanks to the strong promotion of the MNC card by the government, 76.8% of the population now possesses their own MNC. However, since May 2023, several issues have emerged, thus raising concern among the public.
The primary problem centered around the leakage of personal data in medical facilities. The government acknowledged that between October 2021 and November 2022, at least 7,300 cases of personal data leakage have been confirmed. While the government attributed this issue to human error during the data imputation process rather than flaws in the MNC system itself, public concern about the security of personal data is growing.
Another problem arose due to human error, whereby individuals were mistakenly provided with the personal details of a stranger when requesting official documents. These errors stemmed from similarities in names or dates of birth and the reliance on information from the Individual Register of Residents instead of directly collecting the information from the applicant for the card.
Additionally, concerns have been raised regarding the accessibility and utilization of the MNC by elderly individuals, who may face challenges due to reduced autonomy. Questions have also arisen regarding the use and security of information when elderly individuals are transported by car to nursing homes or day care services.
The renewal process of the card has posed further difficulties.Unlike the previous automatic renewal system for health insurance cards, MNC the card holders are required to undergo a renewal procedure at a government office. Failure to renew the card in a timely manner results in the individual being without health insurance coverage until the new card is received.
The future of the MNC
Amidst mounting criticism, the government has put forth a new bill proposing the introduction of a new My Number card in 2026. This new draft aims to address the card’s security issues, remove the gender information from the card and establish an online renewal process. Furthermore, the government intends to make the MNC the sole method of identification for certain private transactions.
While the government remains committed to prioritizing the development of a digital society, some voices are advocating for a pause in the MNC development.They argue for a thorough evaluation of the risks associated with personal data and the identification of suitable solutions. In addition, they emphasize that introducing a new version of the card at this juncture would create significant challenges for various stakeholders, including municipalities, medical institutions and companies, as they adapt to a new system.
With the government planning to present a new bill in 2024, the future of the MNC remains uncertain, given the criticism that has followed the revelations of various issues.
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