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[] Japan Launches ID Network Amid 'Big Brother' Angst,

Japan Launches ID Network Amid 'Big Brother' Angst

By Isabel Reynolds, Reuters, August 05, 2002

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan launched a compulsory ID system on Monday aimed at 
bringing government into the electronic age in the face of stiff protests 
calling it a violation of privacy and a temptation to hackers. A group of 
academics and activists presented the Home Affairs Ministry with a petition 
demanding the government halt the program, which links municipal computer 
systems and gives each Japanese citizen an 11-digit identification number. 
They filed a court case at the end of last month, demanding the system be 
abolished because it was unconstitutional. "We don't want to be under 
government surveillance, stop the resident registry system," shouted a 
small band of protesters outside the ministry. With one dressed up to look 
like a computer and another as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the 
demonstrators danced and put on a short sketch to illustrate their 
objections to the system. The new database stores personal data -- names, 
addresses, dates of birth, gender and the new ID numbers -- for each of 
Japan's 126 million citizens, making it easier for them to obtain documents 
for a variety of public services and benefits. But at least five 
municipalities, including Suginami Ward in western Tokyo, are refusing to 
join the system, while Mayor Hiroshi Nakada of Yokohama, Japan's 
second-largest city, said on Friday that residents would be allowed to 
choose whether to take part. Seiji Osaka, mayor of Niseko in Hokkaido, said 
his town might withdraw from the system in September if personal 
information was not being fully protected. About four million of Japan's 
127 million people live in municipalities that are refusing to introduce 
the system, media said. The mayor of Kokubunji in western Tokyo held an 
official "shutting down" ceremony, in which he appeared before the media 
and clicked a mouse to cut the local computer system off from the new network.


Opponents fear that something sinister is at work and that the new system 
gives authorities a tool to harass and silence critics. "This system treats 
individuals as things, not people," Hirohisa Kitano, a legal expert and 
professor emeritus of Nihon University, said at a news conference. "The 
Nazis assigned numbers to Jewish people in exactly the same way. It is 
extremely dangerous," he added, explaining that he feared a return of the 
surveillance of citizens common under Japan's militarized system before and 
during World War II. Critics say the ID number could act as a key to an 
array of personal data stored at different locations, making it easier for 
hackers to create mischief. The government says it has created a security 
system that can detect suspicious access to the database. "It's quite 
common to feel uneasy about something new. We want to keep explaining until 
such anxieties disappear," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda. 
Doubts have emerged over the technical aspects after several 
municipalities, including Osaka, reported computer glitches. Mayor Kazuo 
Yoshimura of Yamagata City in northern Japan made what he called a "humble 
protest" on Monday morning, delaying the start up of the computer system in 
his city by one hour. "The government was supposed to enact a law 
protecting personal information but failed to do so, so the mayor decided 
to make a 'humble protest'," a Yamagata City official said. "But he has to 
respect the law," he said, explaining why Yamagata City would take part in 
the scheme. Koizumi's administration failed to enact a promised personal 
information protection law in a parliament session ended on July 31 after 
protests from journalists and critics who said it would do more to muzzle 
the media than protect personal data. Japanese citizens in municipalities 
that have not opted out will receive their 11-digit ID numbers later this 

(Additional reporting by Masako Iijima and Masayuki Kitano)

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