Digital Agency: Don’t Take Personal Information Leakages Lightly

It must be said that there is a lack of awareness of the gravity of handling sensitive private information.

The government’s Personal Information Protection Commission, chaired by Mieko Tanno, has issued administrative guidance to the Digital Agency over errors in registering bank accounts linked to My Number identification cards for receiving public funds.

The commission has asked the agency to report on its improvement measures by the end of October, citing deficiencies in the agency’s personal information management.

For the Digital Agency to receive administrative guidance is a serious matter. As the agency handles the My Number system, which applies to everyone in the country, it should have the highest awareness of the importance of personal information protection.

The number of cases of erroneous registration involving bank accounts for public funds has risen to 940.

According to the agency, such errors arose when people registered their bank account numbers and other information at terminals set up at municipal government offices, and then forgot to log out — whereupon the next person to use the terminal overwrote their information on the same screens. There must have been municipal government helpers present, but they apparently did not notice the mistakes.

When the problem was discovered, digital minister Taro Kono said, “There will always be unavoidable human error,” explaining it away as if the central government were not at fault.

However, the Personal Information Protection Commission pointed out that the agency’s measures to prevent residents from making input errors “must be said to be inadequate.” It also emphasized that the agency lacked awareness that “the erroneous registration amounts to information leakages.”

Inevitably, it has been pointed out that Kono underestimated the problem.

Problems surrounding My Number cards are not limited to cases of bank accounts for receiving public funds.

There have also been cases found in which the wrong individuals’ information was registered for My Number cards linked to health insurance certificates, which could lead to medical records, medication and other personal information being exposed.

In many cases, such links have been made manually by local governments and other entities. Kono said that human error is inevitable with the introduction of new technology. However, if mistakes are to be expected, then the central government has all the more responsibility to take steps to prevent them.

The Digital Agency also seems to have problems in terms of its own organizational operation.

The erroneous registration involving bank accounts to receive public funds was first noticed in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward in July last year, followed by a string of such incidents across the country, but Kono reportedly did not receive a report on these cases until May this year. It is obvious that there are deficiencies in the information sharing system.

Many of the about 1,000 employees of the Digital Agency come from information technology companies. While the knowledge of people from the private sector is essential in promoting digitization, there are differences between business and public service. Since agency personnel are administrative officials, they should put the safety and well-being of people’s lives first.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 22, 2023)