Zenroren opposes DX-related bills that paves the way for surveillance society
Digital transformation should be directed toward strengthening protection of personal information to help make people’s lives fruitful and enhance convenience
National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
March 9, 2021
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide on February 9 approved six digital transformation-related bills, including one that establishes the basic legal framework of digitalization of society. The government is trying to get the bills enacted in the current Ordinary Session of the Diet. The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) recognizes that digital transformation is necessary for making people’s lives happy and fruitful on the premise that personal information is protected. But we oppose the legislation as the proposed bills have risks that endanger personal information given that it would be put under centralized control for surveillance or that it might leak. Private businesses may use such information for their benefit. It is also problematic that the government intends to get the bills enacted on the fast-track procedure. We demand that legislation to protect personal information, including the privacy rights under the Constitution’s Article 13, be strengthened, and that an independent body be established to supervise and control violations of such rights. We also strongly demand that the secret protection law and the conspiracy law, which were imposed in defiance of strong opposition, be repealed.
Government administration must serve the interest of the people, not business interests.
Illegal entertaining of Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry officials by Tohokushinsha Film Corporation and NTT have been exposed as well as entertaining of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry officials. It’s unforgivable that government administration is distorted by a handful bureaucrats to benefit particular companies. The Digital Agency will have a certain number of personnel recruited from the private sector. This raises concern that its administration could be distorted to the benefit of particular businesses.
Creation of Digital Agency that could allow the state to handle personal information leading to surveillance society
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide says the Digital Agency creation will (1) unify and standardize the administrative systems of the central government and local governments, (2) help pay various benefits faster through promoting the use of the Individual Number Card (“My Number Card”); (3) enable people to undergo administrative procedures by using smartphone; and (4) ease restrictions on the use of online healthcare services and digital education. Most importantly, personal data as well as big data for business would be totally managed by the state. All kinds of personal information as well as identification, such as workplace information, various benefit payments, licenses, and national qualifications would be linked to the Individual Number system, leading to a surveillance society.
Utilization of personal information in the business interests
The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) is promoting digital transformation (DX or DT) by pushing ahead with innovation of the nation’s systems and rules through public-private cooperation. The “smart city plan” is already in motion, introducing a system of real-time data collection and analysis and utilizing personal information. Expansion of the use of personal information would be beneficial for businesses. Keidanren is also proposing securing “reliable and free data distribution” by establishing the rules at the World Trade Organization (WTO), implementing bilateral/multilateral cooperation, and utilizing non-governmental frameworks such as the World Economic Forum. Keidanren is considering allowing private sector businesses to utilize enormous amounts of personal data, even beyond national borders. Workers’ personal data must not be used by businesses for their benefit for whatever reason.
Data leakage, social disparity and exclusion could occur
More than 1,25 million cases of personal data have leaked from the Japan Pension Service. Similar incidents are still happening unabated. Last year, a scandal involving Recruit Career, the operator of job-hunting site Rikunabi, occurred. The company was found to have looked into the browsing history of job seeking students for the purpose of estimating ratio of applicants who declined job offers, which can affect the results of employment examination, and sold the estimated data to employers. It’s been found that Amazon’s AI technology-supported employment system is militating against women applicants. In the Chinese city of Hangzhou, AI technology is used to rate individual persons’ reliability using various personal data. Its scoring can be used to determine social evaluation of individuals. Banks can use it to determine a credit line. It can be used to determine priorities for administrative services. It is even instrumental for choosing jobs or deciding who to marry. However, such data of usage of credit scoring could lead to perpetuating inequality and poverty or paving the way for discrimination.
Worker rights could be threatened
Capitalizing on the anti-coronavirus measures, the government and the business sector have been promoting a flexible work style by adopting and expanding remote work/telework. The 2021 Report of Keidanren’s Committee on Management and Labor Policy, released in January, refers to working styles that are not bound by place or time. The business federation is stressing that “telework should be one of important options of working style in times of the pandemic and in the post-pandemic era, the aim being to increasing labor productivity (including the promotion of digital transformation). The proposed legislation would enable employers to share personal data on particular people regarding their changing jobs. If information about a person’s work, including the person’s evaluation and work attitude, is shared between companies, the worker right guaranteed by Article 27 of the Constitution could be threatened.
‘Digitalization of the administration’ will lead to a decline of public services
While the digitalization of administrative procedures will certainly increase convenience, the digital divide is feared to widen. It is necessary for the administration to maintain non-digital procedures and responses to inquiries.
The plan to promote digitalization of local governments’ information systems and the sharing of the same standards with the central government could force local governments to give up their own policy measures and could destroy diversity in local autonomy and its identity. This amounts to violating the fundamental principle of local autonomy, local governments’ effort to improve resident’s well-being.
Protection of personal data and people’s right to control themselves.
It is also a matter of serious concern that the legislation calls for unifying the laws to protect personal information and for standardizing local ordinances to protect personal information because such ordinances enacted before the state establishes relevant laws would have to keep in step with national standards, which lag behind.
In an advanced information society like Japan, unfathomable amounts of information are concentrated at the state or big businesses. Personal information exchanged without the knowledge of the individuals could be used in a way that is detrimental to the person. People should have the right to know what information is collected and to engage in the matter in order to avoid any misuse of their personal information,
Social movements could be restricted
It is necessary to restrict profiling of people’s political belief or orientation in order to protect privacy rights.
Big data can be used to manipulate public opinion into supporting the government or particular political parties or greatly influence voting behavior in the elections. Accumulated personal data could be utilized to repress or exclude people’s social movements, such as the labor movement and the citizens’ movement. Freedom of thought and creed, as enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution could be threatened.
Politics geared to destroying constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law and to adversely revising the Constitution are being pushed ahead. Zenroren reiterates its strong opposition to the digital transformation-related bills, which could lead to violating the right to work and privacy rights, and to threatening freedom of thought and creed.