Advocating Voluntary Participation to Resolve Mutual Distrust: Why I have Opted Out of Juki Net
Hiroki AZUMA (Associate Professor, GLOCOM)
In my view, as a resident-cum-consumer, there is no compelling reason why Juki Net should or should not be used. While it might not be a bad idea to have a better public service by making use of a network, there would definitely be some risks involved in using such a system. That being the case, it should be up to each citizen to decide whether he or she joins Juki Net by weighing its benefits over risks individually. If, as advocates say, Juki Net is such a convenient system, it would become widely used without public endorsement just like credit cards or mobile phones.
In a sense, our daily lives are run by distributing our private information. Digitizing and distributing our names and addresses among public offices would not normally lead to any serious infringement of our privacy. Many citizens are wise enough to understand that.
The Opt Out Problem
The problem, though, is that the Juki Net service has been initiated and enforced by central bureaucracy (actually disguised not to be pushed by the central government, a fact that itself has been criticized), when bureaucracy in general is under scrutiny by the public recently. That is why Juki Net has been so severely criticized by many citizens. The problem will not be resolved and probably will become worse by forgetting such a background and saying that "we have no choice but to utilize it since our decision has been made." Furthermore, it is out of the question to blame the mass media and citizens' movements for the critical atmosphere against Juki Net.
Therefore, I think that all local communities should have adopted the "Yokohama approach" in which "citizens themselves may choose whether their resident registry codes should be sent to the national network system, until the security of Juki Net is confirmed in its totality, while assuming that everyone would participate in the system in the future."
I must add that the Yokohama approach is less than perfect. Actually, I am a resident in Tokyo's Suginami Ward, where the Yokohama approach has been adopted. I have received a request form after not supplying my own ID information as a part of Suginami's preparation for connecting itself to the Juki Net system. This is how every Suginami resident can choose whether his or her resident registry code should be added to the network. By reading this form, I have realized that there is a serious flaw in this approach, if we think of Juki Net as a service for residents. That is, while we can choose not to participate, we cannot choose to withdraw once we join the system. In the case of Suginami Ward, this is the first and last chance for residents' choice in this regard. If, therefore, one forgets to submit the request form, one's ID information would automatically be sent to the network and could not be withdrawn from the system later. Of course, there is no grace period nor re-contracting arrangements. Therefore, I simply decided that it would be wise to request that my ID information not be used this time. I will be able to participate if and when I decide to join the system, so there is no need to decide now. I guess there may be many other residents who think this way.
A Matter of Public Trust
I don't know the real motivation for constructing Juki Net on the part of the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (Somusho). It might expect to become a giant information control-surveillance system by its possible connection with IC driver's license, electronic passports, taxpayers IDs as well as other private information through public certification for the sake of strengthening the security of Japanese society. If that is the case, no choice would be given for opting out of or withdrawing from Juki Net. If, however, that is not the case, I would think that each citizen should be given a choice as to whether he or she will use Juki Net. Then we would accept it if it is accepted by the public. Or we should reject it, however costly it has been for its construction, if it is not accepted. The worst part is that public distrust over government in this matter has been deepened so much in return for such trivial services as Juki Net numbers being a substitute for resident registry and helping nationwide issuance of resident registry. Now we must do our best to build mutual distrust between government and residents. It should not matter at all if the process of electronic government is slowed down a little as a result.
One last point is that I started this essay by saying that "in my view, as a resident-cum-consumer," because I wish to simplify my argument. I have written this essay from the standpoint that I would not be opposed to the wide and various usage of Juki Net if it were convenient and supported by citizens. Actually this is my feeling as a resident-cum-consumer. If the Juki Net law is revised substantially to expand the usage of Juki cards and allow us to use them in place of drivers license and passports, to ride on subways, do shopping at Kiosks, and identify ourselves in libraries and laboratories, I could not resist the temptation of such arrangements and many others would feel the same way. However, such a "weakness" of human beings would entail a serious ethical problem from my professional viewpoint of social philosophy.
Convenience of consumer life, efficiency of public administration, and maintenance of public security do not necessarily satisfy conditions for free society. I really wanted to discuss that point, but I have rather chosen to simplify my argument in this essay, because the current debate over Juki Net has not yet been deepened enough.
(The original Japanese article was posted at the GLOCOM Juki Net Research Forum: http://www.juki-net.jp/opinion/006/)