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“My Number”: Portal to a Digital Society

Morinobu Shigeki [Profile]


Under Japan’s new My Number national identification system, set to go into effect next January, each registered resident is being assigned a unique lifetime ID number to facilitate integrated management of taxpayer information and prevent tax and welfare fraud. The author, an expert in national ID systems worldwide, urges the Japanese to overcome their suspicions and tap into the system’s vast potential for high-tech convenience and efficiency.

Japan’s first nationwide social security and tax identification system will go into effect January 2016. Under the new system, dubbed My Number, every registered resident of Japan will be assigned a unique 12-digit ID that will remain unchanged throughout his or her lifetime and will be used for managing social security, tax administration, disaster relief, and potentially other areas, as determined by local statutes.

As part of the new system, “personal number cards” (my number cards) will be issued to residents upon request. The cards in turn will provide access to a secure website, My Portal, where residents can access personal and financial information, account activity, and login history; apply for government benefits or services online; and receive useful notifications from public agencies. This could herald a historic shift from user-initiated to agency-initiated delivery of public services.

Basic Advantages

According to the Outline of the Social Security and Tax Number System drawn up by the Headquarters of the Government and Ruling Parties for Social Security Reform, the national ID number system will offer the following concrete benefits:

  • Public agencies at the national and local level will be able to accurately and efficiently track and share information on social security inputs and payouts for each individual to avoid such problems as underpayment, overpayment, and duplication of benefits, thereby ensuring equitable delivery of benefits fine-tuned to the circumstances of each individual and household.
  • Tax authorities will be able to use the ID numbers to efficiently match and collate information on income and dependents from various sources for more accurate assessment of taxable income.
  • Residents will be able to use home computers and other devices to easily check their own tax and social security records, as well as to access information and applications for services or benefits.
  • Public agencies at the national and local level will be able to promptly share information from tax returns, resident registries, and other documents that residents are required to submit when applying for benefits and services, thereby reducing the burden of paperwork (particularly the need to attach hard copies of documents) and boosting efficiency and convenience for residents and agencies alike.
  • ID cards incorporating chip technology have the potential to simplify life for citizens and residents by integrating various functions now performed separately by health insurance cards, pension booklets, etc.

To better understand this important new social infrastructure, let us first examine and compare the uses of its three basic components: the My Number ID, personal number cards, and My Portal.

Under the law, the My Number ID can currently be used only for the administrative purposes of taxation, social security, and emergency management. Unauthorized or unlawful use is punishable by stiff penalties.

The personal number card, however, promises a wide range of other uses. More than a simple ID card, it incorporates chip technology to facilitate secure transactions using public key encryption. Since users can conduct private transactions without sharing their actual ID numbers, the IC card minimizes privacy and information security risks and will allow private industry to develop a wide array of useful applications free from regulatory constraints. Businesses are already exploring possibilities for the use of personal number cards in online banking and e-commerce.

My Portal, scheduled for launch in 2017, should open the door to even more possibilities. At first, My Portal will simply function to permit users to access and verify their own specific personal information and receive administrative notifications online. Later, however, it is likely to incorporate digital mailboxes and payment processing functions, linking users to a wide variety of services in the private as well as public sector. By inserting one’s personal number card in a card reader and keying in one’s password, it should also be possible to use My Portal to store records of offline transactions.

In short, for users to experience the full benefits of the new system, they will need to apply for personal number cards and register for My Portal.

  • [2015.11.16]

Professor of Law, Chūō University. Senior Fellow, Tokyo Foundation. Born in Hiroshima in 1950. After earning a law degree from Kyoto University in 1973, joined the Ministry of Finance. Served as head of the Co-ordination Division, Tax Bureau; director-general of Tokyo Customs; and president of MOF’s Policy Research Institute. Holds an LLD in tax law. Is the author of many books, including Nihon no zeisei: Nani ga mondai ka (Flaws in Japan’s Tax System) and Shōhizei: Jōshiki no uso (Common Misconceptions about the Consumption Tax).

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