(Photo ; surveillance display, Richard Esguerra)
The Research Commission of the Cabinet Office opened the first My Number and Tax Enforcement Discussion Group in November 2013 after banning mass media from live broadcasting. (*1) Sudo Osamu, chief of Interfaculty Initiative in Information studies of Tokyo University, was invited as an external expert. He gave the example of Denmark as a model to be followed by Japan in the My Number system implementation process and explained the importance of this fact.
Sudo Osamu is a member of the Subcommittee Meeting, the chairman of the Cabinet Secretariat E-government Evaluation Committee and also recently the representative of the chairman of the Evaluation Expert Committee under the IT Strategy Council, and so on. He was deeply involved even before the spread of words “My Number” and was one of the key persons in establishing the system.
Denmark lies in the most Southern part of the Northern Europe. The population in 2015 is around 5.6 million people, while Japan’s is 22 times larger. The surface is 43.000 square kilometers, only 60% of the surface of Hokkaido. The birthrate in 2012 was 1.73, but the population is slowly increasing due to the increasing number of immigrants. (*2) In 1973 Denmark joined the EU and it is also a founding member of OECD. Considering the GDP per Capita it is the 6th country in the world (in 2014. Japan is on the 26th position). It started the personal number system in 1968 but it doesn’t issue an ID card, like Japan is considering doing.
Having a personal number became mandatory in Denmark in 1968. The information related to the personal number is: name, birth date, sex, address, birth place, family information, health information and so on. This information is collected by the Danish Registration System and it is used by all public institutions. According to the government, the purpose is tax collection and the individual health management. It is the same in Sweden and in other Northern European countries. Germany, besides the health insurance number, which is related the personal number, has also adopted the tax number system and it is more focused on tax collection. Even so, the system itself is highly similar. In all countries the personal number is necessary at all public institutions. Sudo Osamu strongly emphasizes the Danish but there are no major differences between the system in Denmark and in other countries. Especially in what concerned the ID card these countries are going in an opposite direction than Japan. Japan is planning to issue a My Number card while Denmark is using the driver’s license, the passport or the health insurance card for identification purposes, which is a method very well known to the Japanese people as well. (*3)
Moreover, the claim the Sudo makes that in Denmark the personal information is anonymous is not supported by the local documents written in English which we’ve checked, but on the contrary. According to the Executive Order on the Civil Registration System Act, part 7, from 2013, (*4) in Denmark there is public access to the personal data. It is possible to make one’s own personal information anonymous, but only for one year. The system is very similar in the neighboring countries as well.
There is only one thing different in Denmark from the other countries, namely the fact that from 2016 Denmark will be the first country where cash will become obsolete. (*5) It will only be possible to use digital money. In 2013 Daske Bank, the biggest bank in Denmark, released an application called Mobile Pay which will become the digital wallet of the Danish people. This application is linked with personal number so it will be very clear who purchased what, where, how much money entered the account. It will be possible to find oneself in the situation when one cannot even buy a slice of bread, no matter how much money one has, if the bank account is blocked based on one reason or another. (*6) Sweden, Norway and other Northern countries are likely to follow Denmark’s example. (*7) This movement is supported by the Better than Cash Alliance, which is an organization promoting the digital money implementation in developing countries like Rwanda. (*8) (*9) This organization is led by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other founding members include Citi, Master Card, Visa and others which are expected to benefit by a commission from the transaction of the digital money.
It is not clear what Sudo’s real intention was when he stated that Denmark’s is Japan’s model. He made the following statement at the above mentioned conference:
“For example, let’s say that Mrs. Here is a nurse and has two children. She has just divorced and she’s having quite a hard time. She is so busy that she doesn’t have time to take care of the children or to help them with their homework. The administrative official knows this and will be able to let her know that there are some services that she might benefit from. (In Denmark) the system is made in such a way that this is possible.”
Nonetheless, in 1970 the birthrate in Denmark was 1.95 and in 2012 it was 1.73, so this system couldn’t prevent the birthrate from falling. Therefore, the reason why Denmark is given as a model is not clear.
However, if this is the reason why the Japanese government decided to switch to the individual property taxation system, it makes a lot of sense to make digital money mandatory and to link the bank account to My Number.
In 2016 My Number system will begin. From 2017 bank account information will be shared among the OECD countries. Moreover, form 2018 there is a high probability that My Number will be linked to the bank account. By that time, in Denmark the cash will have been obsolete for about two years and it is highly probable that other countries will have followed. It is very easy to guess that Japan will also follow the trend.