Japan’s My Number ID Cards Linked to Wrong Data in 1,000s of Cases

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
An official of Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, shows how to obtain a certificate from a multitask copying machine at the municipal government office in March.

In a total of 7,321 cases, My Number identification cards linked to health insurance information were found to contain data on different individuals, according to the health ministry.

The data breach issues were identified from October 2021 to November 2022, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry revealed Friday.

The government needs to take urgent action to address users’ concerns, as there have also been problems with services that allow customers to obtain birth and residence certificates at convenience stores using their My Number cards, according to observers.

In five cases in which a cardholder used the My Number card linked to an insurance card at a medical facility, personal information such as prescription medications and medical expenses of people unrelated to the cardholder was viewed, according to the ministry.

The data is believed to have been erroneously registered by medical insurance operators, such as health insurance associations, when linking subscriber information to the My Number cards.

The government plans to scrap the current health insurance cards and integrate them into the My Number card system in the autumn of 2024.

“We will review [the linking process] all at once, and ensure that sufficient care is taken when entering information into the system in the future,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference Friday.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been a spate of problems related to My Number cards, such as different people’s residence certificates being issued at convenience stores.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said Friday that documents were mistakenly issued to the wrong person in a total of 14 cases in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, plus Yokohama, Kawasaki and Tokushima.

In response, the ministry requested system provider Fujitsu Japan Ltd. and its parent company Fujitsu Ltd. to prevent a recurrence of such a situation, the ministry said.

The ministry also said it asked them to confirm the system’s operation, strengthen the operational supervision system and improve the system’s handling of circumstances that heavily burden it.

“Due to system errors, certificates were issued for someone else. We urged that this incident of personal information leakage not be repeated,” Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said at a press conference Friday.

In January, Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, mistakenly issued a My Number card with the photo of another person. Two citizens with the same first and last names applied for the card on the same day, and the staff mixed up the photos, according to the municipal government.

In March, when a resident of Tokyo’s Nerima Ward visited the ward office to have a My Number card reissued, the ward office gave the person a document containing the names and addresses of 50 ward residents who had applied for the cards.

Surge in acquisition of cards is to blame?

The string of troubles with administrative services using the card is reckoned to be also due to the government’s carrot-and-stick policy of encouraging people to obtain the cards, which has led to a surge in the number of people acquiring the card since the beginning of this year.

The issuance of the card, which is officially called an Individual Number Card, began in 2016. But the applications for the issuance of the card had been sluggish, with the issuance rate totaling only 18.2% as of August 2020.

The government then launched the “My Number Points” campaign in September 2020, rewarding an acquisitor of the card with points of monetary value. Thanks to the campaign, the issuance rate increased markedly, surpassing 40% in January 2022. Realizing the effectiveness of the “carrot,” the government decided to launch the second round of the reward campaign in June 2022.

In a bid to further promote the use of the card, the government prepared a “stick.” Last October, Digital Transformation Minister Taro Kono announced a plan to abolish the current health insurance card and have them integrated into the My Number Card in the autumn of 2024.

The pace of applications has accelerated as more and more people perceived the disadvantages of not having a card greater than having one. The number of applications increased from 59.5 million (or 47.0% of the population) in June last year to 96.14 million (76.3%) at the end of March this year.

However, as the use of the card spread rapidly, the number of those using related services also increased, which as a senior official of the Digital Agency put it, “giving a heavy load on the system.”

Fujitsu Japan also admits that the erroneous issuance of a certificate in Yokohama has revealed the system’s deficiency as the surge in applications overloaded the system.

According to the Japan Agency for Local Authority Information Systems, the number of certificates issued by local governments and obtained at convenience stores in FY2022 exceeded 21 million, 1.5 times more than in the previous year. The number is expected to increase further to over 30 million this fiscal year.

The government plans to expand the service in the future, for instance, by starting on Thursday the installation of My Number card functions in smartphones mounted with Google’s Android operating system.

While the convenience of the service is expanding, the number of problems may also increase unless correctness and safety are not ensured.