Friday, June 20, 2014

"Govt to OK use of anonymous personal data"

Graphic and text from The Japan News, 20 June 2014:

The government plans to allow companies to provide personal data they own to third parties without consent from the individuals the data pertains to if the data is scrubbed of identifying details, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

A study panel of the government’s IT Strategic Headquarters has compiled a draft for an outline on the utilization of data concerning personal information, such as browsing history and smartphone location tracking. The draft was to be presented at a meeting of the headquarters’ study panel on personal data on Thursday, and shortly to be adopted by the headquarters.

The government will then seek opinions from the public with the aim of revising the Personal Information Protection Law at an ordinary Diet session next year. The government reportedly aims to realize the plan in 2016.

With more and more companies utilizing so-called big data, a blanket term for huge quantities of digital data accumulated through information and telecommunication systems, there are growing calls for the protection of individual personal data such as Internet browsing history.

The government believes consumer concerns must be dispelled by establishing rules on such data to realize its plan to revitalize the nation’s economy through the utilization of big data, which was incorporated in its growth strategy.

The draft proposes that companies be allowed to offer without consent from individuals data that was scrubbed of identifiable information . Regarding how such data will be rendered anonymous, the draft hypothesizes that personal information would be made vague—for example, ages would be stated as “in his or her 20s” or “in his or her 30s” and addresses would be kept to prefectures, excluding municipalities.

Companies will use such data in accordance with voluntary rules to be compiled by relevant industry organizations and others.

The draft also calls for the establishment of a third-party organization tasked with inspecting and supervising companies to prevent exploitation of the rules and to ensure personal information is made anonymous. The envisaged watchdog will be granted authority to make on-the-spot investigations and issue recommendations for relevant companies, according to the draft.

Regarding such information as fingerprints and other biometric data, the government is to decide whether such data could be offered to third parties without consent from the relevant individuals by the time the bill will be compiled.

The draft regards such information as race, belief and social position to be sensitive information and prohibits companies from dealing with them in principle.

Regarding the utilization of personal data, many consumers are concerned that their preferences and behavioral patterns, as well as their names and addresses, will be exposed. Last year, East Japan Railway Co. suspended the selling of records of train and bus use by Suica card holders. JR East claimed it would be impossible to identify individuals from the data, but the firm reversed its position due to stronger than expected criticism from users.


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