I had a conversation yesterday (not a formal interview) with Midori Ogasawara, a freelance journalist and writer who used to report on privacy issues for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. This was mainly to set up further interviews with those who are or were involved with campaigns on surveillance and privacy issues in Tokyo. However I also managed to clarify a few of my own questions about juki-net and the opposition which it attracted.
In short, there seem to have been several objections.
- First of all was the objection to the idea of a centralised database, which was able to link between other previously separate databases.
- Secondly, there was the fact that this was the national state asserting authority over both local government and citizens. Both Local Authorities and citizens groups had argued for ‘opt-in’ systems, whereby firstly, towns could adopt their own policies towards juki-net, and secondly and more fundamentally, individual citizens could decide whether they wanted their details to be shared.
- The third objection was to there being a register of addresses at all. Many people saw this simply as an unnecessary intrusion onto their private lives, and in any case, the administration of welfare, education and benefits worked perfectly well before this (from their point of view) so why was such a new uniform system introduced?
- Next there were objections based on what was being networked. The jyuminhyo (see my summary from the other day) is not actually a simple list of individuals and where they live, but is a household registry. It might not, like the koseki, place the individual in a family line, but is still a system based on patriarchal assumptions, with a designated ‘head’ of the household, and ‘dependents’ including wives and even adult children.
- Finally, there was the question of the construction of an identification infrastructure. Whether or not juki-net is considered as an identification system, and it does have a unique identifying number for each citizen, and has the potential to be built on to create exactly such a comprehensive system of national identification. Lasdec, who we talked to the other day, may not approve of this, or believe it will happen, but they are only technicians, they are not policymakers and don’t have the power or the access to know or decide such matters. And in the end, if they are required by law to run an ID system then they will have to run it.
- There were, as I already mentioned, objections to the potential loss or illicit sharing of personal information. I don’t think this is intrinsic to juki-net, or indeed to database systems, but of course both databases and networks make such things easier. People are also quite cynical about promises of secure systems. Lasdec may say that that juki-net is secure, but there have been enough incidences of government data leaks in the past for people not to accept such assertions.
- Finally, Juki-net connects to the border, passport and visa system. The reason that foreigners will finally be included on the jyuminhyo (and therefore juki-net) from 2012 is not therefore to respond to long-term foreign residents’ requests for equal treatment but in fact to make it even easier to sort out and find gaikokujin, check their status, and deal with unofficial and illegal migrants. Groups campaigning for the rights of foreign workers (mainly the exploited South-East Asian and Brazilian factory workers) have therefore been very much involved. Of course it also makes it possible to connect the overseas travel of Japanese people to a central address registry.
I’ll be meeting Midori again soon, I hope, along with other researchers and objectors. I am also still hoping to be able to talk to officials from the Homusho (Ministry of Justice) and the Somusho (Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts & Telecommunications), but they are are currently passing around my request to different offices and generally delaying things in the best bureaucratic traditions!