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Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012
Rethink national ID plan
The government has submitted to the Diet a bill to introduce a "common number system" under which the government would issue each citizen with an electronic chip-equipped ID card that contains the cardholder's personal information for taxation and social welfare purposes.
The government says the ID number system would enhance administrative efficiency and fairness in taxation and the distribution of social welfare resources. But it could also enable the government to systematically access vital information on each citizen and expand its control over the population.
The government hopes to introduce the system in January 2015, but there is no need to rush. The issue requires careful and informed discussion by both the public and the Diet.
Currently individual government organizations separately store information on citizens related to taxation, pensions, medical and nursing care services, etc. Under the new system, that information would be integrated under a single ID number.
The proposed ID card would carry the cardholder's photograph and contain information on such matters as the cardholder's income, personal savings transfers, tax payments, medical payments, and pension and social welfare benefits.
The government argues the system is needed to ensure fair taxation. It stresses that if its plan to raise the consumption tax rate is implemented, the system would be indispensable to accurately gauge individual incomes. It is considering a new tax system under which cash would be given anyone whose income tax burden falls below a certain level. In addition to privacy concerns, it must also be discussed whether it is appropriate to implement a tax increase given the current economic situation.
The government claims that the new system would increase convenience for citizens who receive pensions, and medical and nursing-care services because it would eliminate overpayments that presently are reimbursed at a later date.
But problems in the proposed system raise serious questions: Is it possible for the government to prevent leakage and abuse of the private information it has collected? Can the government rule out the possibility of ID fraud and the potential hardships — financial and otherwise — that it could cause the legitimate ID card holder? The cost to create the proposed system is also enormous.
Citizens and lawmakers should not be fooled by the flowery words the government will likely use to sell this new system, which could lead to greater government control over the people's daily lives.