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Japan gov't to review state use of Line app over personal information fears

The Line app logo
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (Mainichi)

In response to concerns that personal information belonging to users of free messaging app Line was accessible to a Chinese affiliate firm, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga revealed that the government's use of the app is under investigation, during a March 19 House of Councillors budget committee session.

    The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare are planning to suspend recruitment and opinion gathering activities via Line, and requested local governments across Japan to confirm and report their usage of the app by March 26.

    Some municipalities intend to use the app to facilitate coronavirus vaccine reservations; their operations may now be hindered.

    Prime Minister Suga explained, "In response to this incident, we are reconfirming the current usage of the app." He said the government "is not supposed to handle confidential information" when using Line and other similar services provided by private companies to unspecified numbers of users.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a March 19 press conference that the app's usage status among Cabinet Secretariat officials is under investigation, adding, "Until concerns about management of data including personal information are dispelled, we intend to take measures such as stopping (the use of Line for government business)."

    Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda also said during the press conference, "The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications uses the app for recruitment activities, gathering opinions and responding to inquiries; we plan to suspend its usage."

    Takeda stated, "Local governments are making progress in using the app for services such as day care admission applications, various consultation offers to residents, and reservations for oversized garbage collections." He announced that local governments were asked to confirm and report their usage of the app on March 18.

    In response to the ministry's handling of the issue, the Osaka Municipal Government decided on March 19 to temporarily halt a Line-based service offering consultations on bullying and other problems. A similar service to prevent abuse, scheduled for launch in May, will also have its start postponed.

    Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui said, "If the content of the consultations leaks, it will violate human rights. Therefore, we intend to consider reviewing the app's usage."

    Ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) policy chief Hakubun Shimomura pointed out at a March 19 party convention, "The problem cannot be overlooked as the majority of the public and many local governments use the app."

    Shunichi Yamaguchi, chairperson of the LDP's Research Commission on Info-Communications Strategy, expressed concern that "local governments across Japan are using the app for public services, and some are even starting to employ it in coronavirus vaccine-related matters."

    (Japanese original by Kei Sato, Political News Department, Yusuke Matsukura and Tsuyoshi Goto, Business News Department, and Hirokage Tabata, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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