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Today was the City of Yokohama Committee for the Protection of Identification Information Committee meeting. I was appointed to this committee in 2003 in the wake of their decision to allow their citizens to opt out of the Japanese Basic Resident Code database. I was reappointed again today. I joined a number of these government committees to try to help protect rights, prevent stupid decisions and change bad laws, but I am increasingly frustrated by the Japanese bureaucracy and the ability to cause any change through these committees. (Although local government committees are clearly more sincere than central government committees.) I think part of it is because I am spending more and more time outside of Japan where board positions or public debate appear to have more direct effect. Generally speaking, Japanese government committees allow you to say what you feel, but it is very unclear exactly what effect what you say has. (One exception was when I think I did permanent damage in a committee to the stupid idea of Japan trying to do a version of the Clipper chip when it was in vogue in the US.)

The meeting today was open to the public and there was one reporter and two citizen observers. The city officials reported on the status of the system. 836,654 or 23.78% of the people are opted out of the system and only 15,503 people have asked to be issued national ID cards. After the report, we were asked to discuss issues generally.

My opinion was that because of all of the commotion that we made around the security issues of the system, the security of the core system itself is fairly good, but the local government networks that it connects to are still a mess. Also, my main concern has always been the risk of the data being collected and abused OUTSIDE of the core network and these issues have not been addressed. There have been some fraudulent cards, but major crimes have not been committed. I warned that this is because barely anyone is using the network. If the government comes up with some useful application for the ID system, I'm sure fraud will increase. I also pointed out that at this level of usage, it can't be making any financial sense for the local governments who have installed and are running the system. Yokohama is one of the largest cities, but in small towns, there are still only dozens of users. I added rather bluntly that considering the cost and the potential risk because of the ill-conceived architecture, I still think they should shut the whole thing down and start from scratch building something useful using modern privacy technology to address specific needs rather than continue to use this expensive and pointless system. The system was basically a product of the e-Japan initiative to make Japan #1 in IT and fuel it with government spending. Of course building a national ID system would be a great way to spend a lot of money. Anyone who has run a business knows, that you shouldn't invest good money after bad. Just because it cost a lot to build doesn't mean we need to keep investing.

I doubt, of course, that my opinion will change anything, but at least it's on the public record.


I think you mean identification (spelling mistake).

Oops. ;-) Thanks. Fixing now.

Hi Joi,

I would like to better understand your article. Is the issue about:

1. Putting already existing ID data on a government network? (digitization)
2. Creating an ID system which is accesible on the network because… well we are at the digital time. ;)

I'm always surprised by the fear of National ID systems in USA, and it seems in Japan. Could you tell us why do you thingk there is this fear?
In France, there's one for a very long time (Carte Nationale d'Identité) and I think it is mandatory to have one (I have to verify). All people have also a unique Social number (we call it numéro de sécurité sociale = number of social wealthfare.)

I think that there are a number of issues. I do not believe that the government regulations about how data collected by government can be used is sufficient to prevent collected data from being used to stifle free speech and other freedoms. Japan has a history of using information to discriminate against people. Even today, there are lists of subscribers and past subscribers to "Akahata" the left wing newspaper. People who apply for jobs in government or large companies are discriminated against for being on this list. Even for having parents on this list. Japan also continues to discriminate against people born in certain regions of Japan. There is even a list of people who have been "arrested" but not charged and this has been known to be used against people. I could easily see how a national ID system could be used to collect more information to create even more sophisticated profiles that would be used against people in everything from marriages, job seeking, renting homes, getting into school, etc. A single national ID makes the aggregation of this information much easier than having multiple id systems for the various networks.

If they addressed needs instead of trying to create some blanket "sounds good" datastructure, it would be better. Why does it have to be a human readable memorizable code in this age of cryptography? Why do we have to have one number instead of numbers for each role that link?

I'm more concerned about the lack of thinking that has gone into this system than anything else. It's very similar to very bad environmental protection.

Thanks Joi.

It makes more sense now.
So basically, it's more a question of human respect without possibility to protect individuals, that would be made worse by such a system.

I knew there was no law against foreigner discrimination, I didn't know it was also the case for certain categories of people in Japan.

From From the French law text,

The Secure National ID Card is made that it can be read by an optical system. The computing management system of this information can keep in memory:

* Family Name
* First names
* Date and Birth Place
* Sex
* Size
* Nationality
* Address
* Place of living
* And your name of usage (I wonder if I could have karlcow :p )
* The authority of issue
* the date of issue
* the validity length
* name and signature of authority who delivered it
* Number of the card ID.
* What document has been given to certify the identity with all datas for origins, dates, etc.
* Date and location of request of this card
* Sending and Reception date of the card

That is a lot of data ;)

Datas can be kept for 15 years. Datas are removed if the card is renewed (let's say, replace by the new data) . Only people in charge of managing cards and police men (and only for their inquiry mission) can have access to these data.

It doesn't say at all how the system is technically working.

So there are three areas of data storage that have different issues.

The central database in the government: People can't see what sort of information is being tracked. Recently they discovered that there was a list on the LAN inside of a government ministry with all of the "Freedom of Information Act" requests for information including theories on why they thought the person asked for the information. (Disgruntled mother of son who was not admitted... for instance.)

The use of national IDs in databases outside: US SS#'s and other IDs have become defacto default IDs. There are risks of identity theft, datamining for profiling and other misuse of such use is not regulated.

The ID on your card: A good example of a controversy right now is the RFID in the US passport proposal. (Or did they decide?) It will provide anyone who pings the RFID and unencrypted result that includes the personal information of the passport holder. Pretty handy if you want to pick Americans out of a crowd or if you want to customize ads to people like in Minority Report.

Each link has numerous issues and failure in all three at the same time is the worst. Fake IDs for the bad guys, data collected and used against you (some of this data could be from faksters) and you don't know what they are collecting or what lists you are on so there is nothing you can do to fix errors. The worst is if this data is used against you and you don't even know it. (Not being admitted for various memberships or privileges or increased screening at airports.)

In Britain, the identity card debate is pretty lively, and mostly in the context of anti-terrorist legislation - the problem is getting the debate into a wider context of civil liberty. See for more details about what's happening on the ground.


Check this out;

Court orders gov't to delete residents' personal info from registry network

KANAZAWA -- The Kanazawa District Court ordered the government Monday to delete personal information on 28 Ishikawa Prefecture residents from the computerized resident registry network in response to a lawsuit they had filed.

The court declared explicitly that the government violated the Constitution when it forcibly placed the plaintiffs' personal information on the controversial network despite their opposition.

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Joi Ito has been reappointed to the Yokohama Committee for the Protection of Identification Information. Basically, this Committee allows citizens to opt-out of being within the database where they are currently pushing a National ID system. Also, my m... Read More