In the second part of her interview, Digital Minister Makishima Karen talks about overhauling Japan’s “analog” regulations, streamlining government services, and the current state of the My Number card.
(Continued from the first part of the interview.)
This interview took place on June 30, 2022. On August 10, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio shuffled his cabinet, handing over the Digital Agency portfolio to Kōno Tarō. While the fundamental direction of government digital policy is not expected to change significantly, some of the details discussed below may change under the new leadership.
New approaches needed for a declining population
TAKENAKA HARUKATA Recently, the government announced its intention to revise nearly 4,000 clauses of laws and ordinances that it considers “analogous” regulations, such as requirements for on-site inspections and in-person training. It set out a policy for the broad use of digital technology, dividing existing regulations into seven categories to be addressed in three phases. What was the context of this approach?
MAKISHIMA KAREN Japanese society has entered a phase of demographic decline and some workplaces are facing severe staff shortages. The problem is not that we lack the technology to deal with it, but that it is not being used. The reason in some cases is to respect old habits or existing ways of doing things, but often the law actually stipulates an on-site inspection or permanent stationing of personnel. Removing these barriers will allow the application of new technologies, allowing us to implement policies despite population decline. We promote it on the premise that it will increase corporate profits and benefit workers.
TAKENAKA A Digital Government Action Plan was ratified by Cabinet in December 2020, under the administration of Suga Yoshihide, proposing the elimination of “analog” regulations. Are these moves under Prime Minister Kishida Fumio based on this?
MAKISHIMA The recently announced revisions apply to regulations with certain common features, such as requiring visual observation, regular visits and inspections, or the permanent appointment and stationing of staff. By grouping them together and establishing phases to respond to them, we aim to make revisions both collectively and laterally. This is a new approach introduced under the Kishida administration.
TAKENAKA You were chief secretary of the special committee on promoting the digital society of the LDP Policy Research Council, formed in 2020. This was when the Kishida administration was touting the concept of a “digital garden city” to develop rural areas by applying advanced technologies. How has this continued in the current policies of Kishida’s government?
MAKISHIMA Although the name has changed several times, from IT Strategy Special Mission Committee to Digital Society Promotion Special Committee and then to Digital Society Promotion Headquarters, I have always served as its Principal Secretary. I have also submitted Digital Nippon’s proposals to the Minister in charge of this policy area, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister every year. In 2020, in addition to the “digital garden city concept”, we identified the need for a government organization such as the Digital Agency. The proposal was accepted by Suga Yoshihide, then Chief Cabinet Secretary. Later, when he became prime minister, he helped launch the agency at record speed.
Digital Nippon’s 2021 proposal was titled “Unlimited”. The was intended to represent people who believe that regional problems can be solved by the introduction of new technologies, the cutting-edge solutions that Japan possesses. They believe that our people and technologies know no bounds and that Japan has yet to show its full potential. In the proposal, we suggested that because people are not familiar enough with digital technology, we need to promote regulatory reform in the area. I drafted the proposal, when I was chief secretary, with Kobayashi Fumiaki, who is now vice minister of digital affairs. As soon as it was accepted, the agency was charged with its execution.
Increase the use of the “My number” system
TAKENAKA The example of using drones to implement visual inspections that previously had to be done in person is very easy to understand. Was such a direction of regulatory reform discussed before the days of the Suga administration?
MAKISHIMA I believe that some discussions had taken place in the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and other entities that oversee matters in areas such as -this. It falls to the Extraordinary Digital Administrative Advisory Committee to reframe these issues, considering regulations such as those mandating in-person pick-up or permanent staff parking, not limited to individual departmental policies. We are also leading the creation of a “technology map” to coordinate decisions on the types of technologies that can be leveraged through regulatory reviews.
TAKENAKA How will this change the lives of ordinary citizens? Would it be possible, for example, to do the training session for the renewal of the driving license online?
MAKISHIMA Trials are already underway in four prefectures – Hokkaidō, Chiba, Kyoto and Yamaguchi – giving people with good driving records the chance to take the online training to renew their license. Going forward, this will be rolled out nationwide. Incidentally, our policy is also to integrate the driver’s license with the Japanese “My Number” system of individual identity cards.
TAKENAKA You mention driving license integration, but the My Number card is also intended to be used as a health insurance ID. Does this mean that a person’s medical history will be recorded on the card, allowing other medical institutions to refer to treatment records?
MAKISHIMA Currently, people can rely on their My Number cards to share specified health test results and medical records with doctors and pharmacists to ensure they can receive more targeted treatment. But medical history is not stored on the card, as a safety measure in case a card is misplaced.
The key element of the My Number card is its positioning as the highest means of personal identification. People can often use a health insurance card as a means of identification, but the individual’s photo is not saved anywhere, so we need to be aware of its limitations. A My Number card makes it possible to confirm with certainty the identity of a person, as well as their possible qualifications, and to authorize a doctor to consult their medical history.
It is important that we encourage people to get used to using their My Number card as a passport to digital society. With the My Number card functioning as a health insurance card, people will no longer need to carry separate proof of insurance with them and, indeed, there will be no need to issue insurance cards at all. ‘Health Insurance. We keep looking for that kind of convenience.
TAKENAKA At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the public became painfully aware of the slow pace of digitization in government departments with confusion over cash payments intended to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. What progress has been made in registering citizens’ banking information?
MAKISHIMA Just today, June 30, we launched a second campaign for citizens to receive points that can be used to make purchases by saving details on their cards. They can receive 7,500 yen in points for applying to use their My Number card as a health insurance card, and 7,500 yen in points for registering a bank account to receive government payments in the future. In addition, people who have not yet accumulated the points offered in the first campaign, for the initial acquisition of a My Number card, can receive an additional 5,000 yen of points, bringing the total of potential points that can be won to a maximum of 20,000 yen. the penalty. I believe this campaign will encourage more people to acquire a card, use it as a health insurance ID, and open an account for government payments.
Advancing the digital society
TAKENAKA The slogan of the Digital Agency is to be the “command tower” for the creation of a digital society. What do you think of the agency’s relations with other ministries and government agencies? Are there times when the agency uses its overall coordination functions to issue specific directives?
MAKISHIMA In addition to its main missions for the State and local authorities, the Digital Agency has various missions: the construction of digital infrastructures, the revision of existing systems and advice. For example, we are also responsible for promoting the registration of bank accounts to receive government benefits and the My Number system. However, the My Number card itself is the responsibility of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Communications, and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is responsible for introducing My Number card readers into medical institutions. We coordinate with these ministries in this work.
In the future, we also hope to advance the digital society in quasi-public domains. We will promote digitization, coordinate data formats and collection, and facilitate their use in a number of private sector areas where government plays an important role and which are intimately linked to people’s lives, such as health, medicine and nursing. care, education, children’s issues, disaster mitigation and mobility. We will work to provide the best services adapted to the needs of individuals, thus realizing the concept of “digital garden city”.
In terms of our relationships with other departments and agencies, when looking at the digital society as a whole, in situations where we believe progress in a certain area is demonstrably slow, we have the authority to make recommendations, even if it is reserved for extraordinary use. We have not exercised this power to date, but I believe that even the fact that we have this power sends a strong message to other sectors of government.
(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Nippon.com Editorial Planning Committee Chairman Takenaka Harukata, left, with Digital Minister Makishima Karen, on June 30, 2022, in Kioichō, Tokyo. All photos © Hanai Tomoko.)