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8/25/2003
01:37 PM
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Japan Moves Ahead With National ID System

The computerized system became fully operational Monday, allowing citizens to cut through red tape with an 11-digit number--despite criticism that it's a threat to individual privacy.

TOKYO (AP) -- A national computerized ID system that was criticized for its big-brother overtones when launched last year became fully operational Monday, allowing Japan's 126 million citizens to cut through red tape with an 11-digit number.

The online database, which contains every citizen's name, address, birth date and sex, is the centerpiece of an government initiative to speed administrative procedures such as filing change-of-address forms or applying for a passport.

Three local governments--two subdivisions of Tokyo and a small town north of the capital--continued to boycott the system Monday, and a citizens' group reportedly planned to seek a court injunction to block operations.

But the upgrade of the Juki Net system appeared to run smoother than its launch last August, when it was plagued by bugs and sparked protests calling it a threat to individual privacy. At that time six local governments refused to participate.

Several finally decided to connect after Japan's Parliament passed a long-debated law in May to protect personal information from abuse by bureaucrats, said Kazuhiro Hyakutake, an official with the Home Affairs Ministry.

The data stored in the system after it went online last August was initially used internally by the government. Beginning Monday, local governments began issuing Juki Net ID cards allowing citizens to take advantage of various administrative shortcuts.

Some Japanese initially chafed at the idea of being assigned a number, and others complained that it smacked of the kind of surveillance carried out by Japan's pre-World War II authoritarian government.

Home Affairs Minister Toranosuke Katayama blamed most of the early resistance on misunderstanding.

"It's questionable to me whether detractors of the system really understand the point," Katayama said in a weekend television appearance. "It means more convenience for citizens and a more-efficient bureaucracy."

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