EDITORIAL PPC must live up to its duty in probe over My Number mixups

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The Personal Information Protection Commission (PPC) recently launched an on-site inspection into the Digital Agency over cases of private data mix-ups.

These glitches entailed central government-issued Individual Numbers for personal identification, more commonly known as My Numbers, being erroneously linked to bank accounts of other individuals.

It is an essential role of the PPC to monitor and supervise administrative bodies that handle private data. The PPC should realize, in fulfilling its duty, that this occasion is a touchstone of the commission’s raison d’etre.

The PPC is a central government body that serves as the control tower for protecting private information.

It is stipulated that the PPC comprises a chairperson, appointed from among experts, and eight other commission members, who together exercise their independent authority in a collegial manner. The on-site inspection is an exercise of power that is authorized by the My Number law.

The inspection is targeted at the data mix-ups, wherein bank accounts to be used for receiving public money were registered with the ID number of a different individual.

PPC officials said they will consider giving administrative guidance after establishing, among other things, if the Digital Agency had an appropriate system for risk management and if it gave appropriate explanations on procedures to local government officials, who handle the registration procedures.

The commission should rigorously instruct the agency to handle private information in an appropriate manner. In doing so, it should not be afraid of displeasing the central government administration, which is eager to expand the use of the My Number system and spread the use of the Individual Number Card, more commonly known as the My Number card.

The Digital Agency, for its part, should also take the matter seriously and cooperate honestly with the inspection. The central government as a whole should feel remorse over having stirred public anxiety about the My Number system and end its forward-leaning stance toward promoting it.

There have also been mix-ups over the My Number system and the My Number card system in the fields of social security and local government services.

Their direct causes are diverse. They include a failure to adhere rigorously to the correct registration procedures and defects on the part of an information systems company.

It appears evident, however, that, fundamentally speaking, all these problems arose because relevant ministries and agencies began operating the systems without fully checking on the circumstances that face front-line offices in charge of the day-to-day work.

It has also emerged that the Digital Agency poorly shared information within itself and failed to cooperate sufficiently with other ministries and agencies and with local governments.

The PPC should take this opportunity to extend its probe outside the Digital Agency and uncover organizational problems, including in the setup for implementing the systems and for operating them. It should conduct rigorous investigations to call on the central and local governments to improve their approach to digitization.

The PPC says in its founding ideal that it will “build the foundation of public trust in the proper handling of personal information and ensure the public’s safety and security.”

The body has, however, so far had an undeniably weak presence. It has also been pointed out that the commission lacks sufficient staffing and expertise.

In the meantime, a law amendment was enacted last month to expand the scope of the use of the My Number system. That has further increased the commission’s role of overseeing the administration. The PPC’s functions should therefore be strengthened further.

The minister for digital transformation has doubled as the Cabinet member in charge of the PPC since the Digital Agency came into being two years ago.

Central government officials have told the Diet that no Cabinet member has the power to instruct the PPC to exercise its authority. However, the use and protection of private data are sometimes at odds with each other.

Reconsideration should be given, on this occasion, to the wisdom of having one and the same person take charge of both functions.

–The Asahi Shimbun, July 23