Japan's ubiquitous convenience stores now serving up privacy breaches

Fujitsu in the frame for foul up with government document dispersal app

Japan's minister for digital transformation and digital reform, Taro Kono, has apologized after a government app breached citizens' privacy.

The app is called the "Certificate Issuing Server" and, as explained by the municipal government of Kodaira City, allows residents to print documents such as certificates that prove they've paid taxes.

Fujitsu Japan developed and operates the service, which preps PDF files in response to user requests and then despatches them to printers in convenience stores. The service is not universal: local governments opt in to deploy it.

Convenience stores host multifunction printers to produce the documents. As convenience stores are utterly ubiquitous across Japan, the service is a very … erm … convenient way to access government documents.

Or it would be, if the app weren't printing the wrong documents.

At a press conference yesterday the minister acknowledged that the service has printed documents belonging to people other than those who requested the service on many occasions – he mentioned 13 errors in one municipality alone.

He's therefore suspended the service and told Fujitsu to fix the service and stop breaching privacy. Quickly.

Fujitsu has reportedly also apologized for the incident.

The foul-up is embarrassing to Fujitsu, but also a big problem for the minister, who has served in the role since 2022 and demonstrated reformist zeal.

Japan remains infamously reliant on paper-based processes, and fax machines remain plentiful. The minister and his predecessors have promised to bring Japan further into the digital age, but have little to show for their efforts. At his press conference, the minister conceded the incident has reduced the public's confidence in digital services. Given his job is to increase public confidence to encourage adoption of more digital services, this foul-up is most unwelcome.

At least the minister had other good news to share at his Tuesday press conference: the completion of a spec for cloudy document sharing across all tiers of government, and the launch of a hackathon to develop new functions for government portals. ®

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