Japan to change laws that require use of floppy disks

Digital minister will drive change because, in theory, uploading info to government isn't allowed

Japan's digital minister Taro Kono has pledged to rip up laws that require floppy disks and CD-ROMs to be used when sending data to the nation's government.

The news emerged on Tuesday at Japan's 5th Digital Society Concept Conference, where a strategy for future digital government services was outlined. Japan appears set to go down the well-worn road of issuing a national ID – called MyNumber in this instance – to its people so that they can access various government services.

But because such services by their nature involve uploading data to government agencies, the minister initiated a review of laws governing that process of submitting information. That effort found more than 1,900 regulations that stipulate how data can be shared with government – and as explained in this document [PDF in Japanese], many require the use of floppy disks or CD-ROMs. Newfangled techniques such as uploading info via the internet are not described, so are technically not permitted.

Kono pledged to rewrite those regulations, ASAP, so that Japan's digital plan can proceed unhindered.

He's not the first to try give Japan a dose of digital transformation. In 2021 former prime minister Yoshihide Suga promised to reduce reliance on the use of seals and fax machines. But Suga's time in the top job was short and his digital agenda was not delivered.

Kono is younger and more tech-savvy, and even has two Twitter accounts, one in Japanese and another in English.

At the Digital Concept Conference he endorsed a plan that will see Japan's government address its tech skills shortage, improve its communications infrastructure, and even implement Web3.

While regulations requiring the use of floppy disks are undoubtedly archaic, Japan is not alone in requiring citizens to use legacy tech. Just last year South Korea ended use of ActiveX controls on some government websites, consigning Microsoft's late 1990s attempt at countering Java to a well-earned rest.

Australia's government used a flat file database to drive welfare payments well into the late 2010s.

China still uses "chops," a kind of seal that gives the possessor official control over a company. The rogue CEO of Arm China was able to retain power after being fired thanks to his retention of the company chop.

In the US, the Internal Revenue Service handles millions of paper tax returns manually each year, with staff opening envelopes and typing in details by hand from the submitted forms rather than using automation and OCR. The Washington Post recently documented the mess in a photo essay.

US government websites such as the federal court document registry PACER and the Trademark Electronic Search System both offer an experience that would have felt crisp and modern in the days of Netscape Navigator, the first web browser to achieve widespread popularity in the mid-1990s. Both even look like they could feature the thankfully deprecated {BLINK}* HTML tag.

And of course mainframes still litter the world: who could forget the governor of the US State of New Jersey asking for help from "cobalt" programmers – he meant COBOL – when COVID-19 lockdowns created a need for very old apps to scale? ®

*Using the tag made text blink when viewed in a browser. We've used curly brackets here because our publishing system doesn't like invalid tags in angle brackets. As is proper.

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