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Friday, Aug. 6, 2010

Privacy law may face new scrutiny


Staff writer

The government may look into revising the Personal Information Protection Law if some of its provisions are stopping municipalities from ascertaining the status of "missing" centenarians and other pension recipients, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku hinted Thursday.

"If (the law) is impeding the investigations by local governments, we need to consider our options," said Sengoku, touching on the rising number of unaccounted-for people who, if still alive, would be over 100 years old.

As of Thursday, there were at least 45 "missing" centenarians.

Last week in Tokyo, the mummified corpse of a man was found after it was believed he was still alive at 111 years old. The man appeared to have passed away more than three decades ago, but family members didn't report the death and continued to collect his pension. Then there was the case this week of a Tokyo woman who, if still alive, would be 113 but no one can recall when she was last seen, although her daughter registered the two as living together in 1986.

Sengoku pointed out that the Cabinet needs to get the situation under control, considering that other pension payments may also have been wrongfully disbursed.

"This is a serious issue, something that requires action by the government," the administration's top spokesman said, adding he believes the ties that bind families and their communities are "becoming scarce."

There have been numerous cases in which caretakers of the very old refuse to allow welfare workers to actually meet their charges, citing all sorts of reasons at the doorstep, such as illness, the desire for privacy and so on. Under the current law, welfare workers can't go any further.

The law on the protection of personal information, enacted in 2003 following the 2002 launch of the Juki Net nationwide resident registry network, came into force in 2005.

It is intended to protect the rights and interests of individuals in the information age. Under the law, local governments are required to ensure the proper handling of the huge amounts of personal information they keep on their residents.

Sengoku also expressed his view that the once-sufficient family registration system is in danger of becoming obsolete as the population grows older.

Cases that give a picture of families becoming independent without any interaction in their community are growing more noticeable, he said, touching on last week's discovery of two toddlers in Osaka who may have been dead for at least a month. Their mother, who was arrested after the corpses were found, allegedly left them for weeks without food or water.

The government "may need to come up with new measures to properly keep track" of the public, he said.

But possible legal revisions could run afoul of privacy-protection advocates, who would say trying to learn the status of missing people is none of the government's business.

While excessive government interference in the lives of individuals could trigger a different debate, Sengoku said the central government must work closely with municipalities while also building a joint team within the Cabinet.

"This is an issue that is handled by many ministries, but we should look into how it can be dealt with," Sengoku said.

Information from Kyodo added



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