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Country that still uses fax machines wants to lead the world on data standards at G7

Aiming for somewhere between US 'Wild West' and EU's strict GDPR

Even though Japan lags behind the rest of the developed world in digital transformation, it hopes to create global data flow standards for discussion at next year's G7 meetings.

Speaking at STACK 2022 – a developers' conference in Singapore on Tuesday – Japan's minister of digital affairs, Taro Kono, said: "Next year, 2023, we are hosting G7 meetings in Japan, where we'd like to talk about DFFT – data free flow with trust."

The minister described the international community's data laws as having three types. The first comes from China, where an authoritarian government has a monopoly over personal data. The second is seen in Europe, where GDPR guarantees privacy yet hinders data movement across borders. The last approach is that of the United States, which Kono described as "like the Wild West."

"We'll probably need to hit the right balance between Europe and the United States," said the minister.

"If we could create some kind of global standard – how do you treat the data? How do you treat depersonalized data? – I think it would help the global economy. That's something we would like to talk about in G7 next year."

No further details were given as to what this global standard would look like, nor progress yet made in developing it.

Japan's Digital Agency, which Kono heads, was founded in September 2021 with the goal of strengthening the digitalization of Japan. The minister said his org employs roughly 700 people, compared to 2,000 at the comparable agency in Singapore, and was "understaffed."

The country and its populace have a reputation for being hesitant to adopt new tech and remains committed to nostalgia-inducing relics like fax machines. This reluctance became especially problematic when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a worldwide large-scale transition to digitalization.

"You probably have heard about our war on floppy disk or facsimile. Japan has been so good with analog technology from the 20th century," said Kono. "I think we are lagging behind in digital transformation. We hope we can catch up with you soon."

The minister added that thanks to Japan's aging population, the country is losing half a million people every year – significantly affecting the workforce and making it all the more imperative to remove tasks from human hands where possible.

"If we want to pay closer attention to senior people or children, we cannot just continue what we have been doing," Kono told the audience. "So what we are trying to do is, if there's something that human beings don't have to do, we like to let robots, AI, or computers take care of that."

Japan will host the 2023 G7 summit between May 19-21 in Hiroshima – meaning there are around six months remaining for it to develop its proposed standard. The meetings will also cover nuclear disarmament, making the site of the US's first atomic bombing an apt backdrop. ®

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