Japan's digital minister surrenders salary to say sorry for data leaks

The My Number card mess remains unsolved as trust in e-government remains muted

Japan’s digital minister has doubled down on a June promise to penalize himself for the poor rollout of the country’s digital ID, My Number Card, by offering up three months salary on Tuesday.

Minister Taro Kono’s comments relinquishing his Cabinet wages were given in an August 15 press conference in response to an August 8 interim report on the messy My Number scheme.

The interim report reportedly revealed a lack of knowledge among the public on how to link their My Number Card to disability records, cases of health insurance being connected to the wrong card, and errors in pension records of public servants.

The My Number Card, which debuted in 2016, also links to other government services such as driving licenses, tax departments and more. It comes equipped with a microchip and a photo.

The problems with the card have been ongoing. Of 55 million people that link their bank account and card, at least 130,000 were linked to the wrong one, reported local media.

The government said in August it would review regulations and formulate new guidelines for the digital IDs by the end of September. Kono said the Digital Agency, which he heads, would also issue a review by end of November.

"It is very regrettable that more than a few misregistration cases have occurred in the public money receipt account registration service provided by the Digital Agency itself," said Kono on Tuesday. He called the agency's information sharing system "inadequate" and blamed it for a delays in responses.

"As the digital minister, I recognize that I should draw a line," said the minister.

Admittedly, the minister has been tasked with a hard job: turning around a populace that is is not enamored of government digital services and had not enthusiastically adopted digital ID.

Symptomatic of that mindset is the fact that Japan only stopped requiring floppy disks and CD-ROMs be used when sending data to the government in August 2022.

Japan's goal was to have almost all citizens equipped with a My Number Card by March 2023. A more consequential deadline was set for Autumn 2024, when existing photo-less national health insurance cards are scheduled for obsolescence. Once those cards expire, accessing healthcare will be hard for holdout citizens.

But Japanese residents have pushed back. Last October an online petition to retain the cards quickly gathered 100,000 signatures.

But Japan could have made it easier on itself as the process of obtaining a My Number card in the first place was cumbersome. Applicants must collect the card in person from post offices, proving their identity with documentation. Those who forget their PIN can be locked out, and stolen or lost cards take two months to replace.

To readers outside Japan, it may seem odd that a politician has sacrificed a quarter of their annual salary for failures related to digital transformation challenges. However, such offers from execs and politicians are common in Japan as a type of mea culpa, or potentially to quell anger and distrust from a constituency.

For example, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike offered her own $200,000 salary be halved in 2016 after costs associated with the 2020 Olympic Games got out of hand. Accountability is quite a thing.

Despite, or maybe because, Kono often speaks informally, he is generally well liked and has polled well as a possible prime minister. In May 2023, Kono even humble bragged on Bloomberg Television that ChatGPT had misidentified him as the country's prime minister. Not yet. ®

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