Japan to start stamping out rubber stamps and tearing up faxes as new digital agency given Sept. 1 start date

'My Number' identifier to become central to myriad government services if the plan works

Japan has passed laws that will allow it to create a new Agency to lead a national digital transformation effort.

The nation has already introduced an identifier called “My Number”. The new plan calls for My Number to be recognised across national and local governments and to merge with other identifiers like health insurance numbers and drivers’ licences. Japanese central and local governments plan to eventually harmonise their back-office technology to make it easier to deliver digital services that draw on personal information attached to a My Number profile.

My Number is currently card-based. Laws passed yesterday will allow it to be stored in an app, and smartphones used to identify citizens as they access services.

Services will also be digitalised, a big change given that securing a physical stamp or seal on a paper document can often be required when working with Japan’s governments. Faxes also remain prevalent in Japan, and the inefficiencies they entail were starkly pointed out early in the COVID-19 pandemic when faxed medical records and other communications moved with frustrating lack of speed. Slow rollout of COVID-related stimulus payments also hurt Japan in 2020 and were attributed in part to poor digital services.

A digitalisation drive was a key policy platform for new prime minister Yoshihide Suga as he strove for the top job in late 2020.

As a result of legislation passing yesterday, the digital transformation agency he said was needed to do the job will start operations on September 1st.

Some of the new agency’s tasks are not expected to be completed for years, so there’s plenty of scope for slow-motion messes on the road to a more digital Japan. ®

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