Japan to implement ID cards following Estonia’s example

Japan is the first large country who is going to implement a digital personal identification card, following Estonia’s example.

The step was announced on 23 October, following a meeting between the Estonian Prime Minister, Taavi Rõivas, and the Japanese Finance Minister, Akira Amari, who visited Estonia to get acquainted with Estonian e-services. The two ministers discussed developing digital societies and closer economic relations between the two countries.

“I am glad Japan has taken a decisive step towards laying a foundation for the digital society of the 21st century by creating a unique personal identification code system,” Rõivas said when acknowledging the successful launch of the Japanese MyNumber project.

“I am delighted that Estonia’s experiences and knowledge in relation to the ID card are useful to others as well. Cooperation in this field will certainly continue in the future,” Rõivas added.

During the meeting, Amari presented Rõivas with his personal MyNumber card. Amari, in turn, became the newest e-resident of Estonia.

Japan will launch the MyNumber National ID system in January 2016. It is Japan’s first national ID system and as declared by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is expected to be a step towards a “single card society”. Abe himself became Estonian e-resident earlier this year.

The Estonian ID card system, one of the most advanced in the world, is the basis for all of the digital services that are available in the country. Introduced in 2002, the ID card is not just a typical piece of plastic with a picture, but a highly sophisticated digital access card for all of Estonia’s secure e-services. The chip on the card contains embedded files which, using 2048-bit public key encryption, enable it to be used as definitive proof of identity in an electronic environment.

It is used as the national health insurance card, as proof of identification when logging into bank accounts from a home computer, as a pre-paid public transport ticket in Tartu as well as  for digital signatures, online voting, accessing government databases to check medical records, filing taxes, and picking up e-prescriptions.

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Cover: Japanese IT-entrepreneur Tsutomu Komori holding his Estonian e-residency card.

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About the author: Silver Tambur

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. He has previously studied journalism at the University of Tartu, and Politics & Society at the Birkbeck College, University of London. Silver has been the editor at the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s news service in English, as well as contributing for the Business Sense magazine in the UK, Deutsche Welle and Radio New Zealand. You can also follow him on Twitter. You can write to Silver at silver@estonianworld.com.

  • Erik Kaju

    Cool news! Hoping to see cross-border compatible electronic identity solutions in future.
    Is Estonia exporting that tech (getting any financial benefit) or just consulting others how to reverse engineer similar e-id PKI infra?

    • Tanel Suurhans

      Well its not like there is something super unique or secret about the PKI stuff Estonia does. The “secret” is mostly on the legislative side in my opinion, as well as how do you scale it – lets be honest here, approx. 1mil cards is peanuts.

      • Vladimir Baryshnikov

        Legislative side can be modernized by Prime Minister of Japan, and you’re right: the most tricky issue is scaling. For dozens of millions users NON-CONTACT chip cards can be successfully (via incentivizing users by bills mobile payments cash-back) distributed at mass paper letters / utility bills to households. We, SmartPaper.fi, implemented our know-how (e.g. cost-effective Œ-cards delivered to 8 millions homes in 1 month inside paper mailers), and Estonian Director of e-residency program confirmed to me that Estonian e-ID has also a NON-CONTACT chip (NFC) inside. I hope to find time to explain our know-how to him (and to Japan via him 🙂

  • Neeme

    Kas mitte Tallinnas pole siiski rohelist (Savisaare) kaarti (või sularaha) vaja ühistranspordis? Hea meelega kasutaks ID-kaarti.

  • Jos Feyaerts

    Also Belgian has such a general identification system for years.
    More you can find on http://eid.belgium.be/nl

    • Anna Piperal

      Many countries do have it, but nowhere the penetration of e-ID is 94% like in Estonia. E-iD is the first step on building the digitial services, using digital signatures and so on.

      • Ramiro Oliva Navas

        In Spain the national e-ID was introduced in 2006. There are 40+ millions units issued since then.
        The problem with e-Id is not the physical availability of the device but the usage. It’s estimated that currently less than 1% of them are actually used for electronic public services.
        Fragmentation of portals, lack of interoperability and software complexities (e.g. deprecation of Java applets and security/browsers issues, unsupported mobile devices, … ) are among the main show-stoppers.

        • Rafael Ferrin

          As you said, the key is not the Id itself but the implementation of a proper network of services.

          You can not export a system that works in a extremely small country (smaller than my city) to a huge and extremely technological country as Japan and expect similar acceptance and usability…

          • GuilleKnows

            Finally someone writing properly, and with logic, thank you. Population size is indeed the main factor, and probably the most ignored factor to consider before even trying to implement a system like the Estonian one, especially to the point it’s used in this tiny country; good for them that it works though. Nice one @rafaelferrin:disqus, seriously, you have now a new follower.

  • Andrew Noon

    Interesting, though if my experience with Japan is any guide this system will be used more to monitor and track its own residents, rather than encourage people from overseas to join in and do business there. Japan already keeps pretty close tabs on everyone… they’ve just preferred to do it with reams of paper forms and carbon copies until now.

    • GuilleKnows

      Bravo, keep talking nonsense 🙂

  • Rafael Ferrin

    if you use it for voting from home, how do you avoid that someone pays
    another person to vote for certain option? In a democracy, a real one, it cannot be
    accepted that an economic power, by money, pressure or extortion may buy
    votes or affect the results of a poll.

    • Indrek

      You cannot completely avoid bribery with e-voting, just like you cannot avoid it with traditional paper-based ballots either. The main difference is that with e-voting one can re-cast their vote any number of times during the voting period.
      Another indirect benefit is that e-voting results in greater election participation rates, so any attempt to sway the voting results will also have to influence a greater number of voters.

      • Ramiro Oliva Navas

        I think the main benefit from eVoting is that the same infrastructure can be reused for n number of consultations hence increasing participation in more issues and not just representation.