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Schoolkids' tablet use halted in Nagoya after devices' history acquired without consent

This photo shows the Nagoya Municipal Government's building that houses the Nagoya Municipal Board of Education. (Mainichi/Masakatsu Oka)

NAGOYA -- The Nagoya Municipal Board of Education on June 10 decided to temporarily halt schoolchildren's tablet use and notified each school of the decision, after it emerged that the education board had been obtaining the devices' operational logs without consent.

    Tablets have been distributed to elementary and junior high schools in Nagoya, and it was pointed out that acquiring operational logs without explanations to students or their guardians in advance may violate the city's personal information protection ordinance.

    Operational logs are records of what has been done on each tablet, including starting up and shutting down the device, sending and receiving emails, handling files, etc. The logs do not include information about the contents of emails or files. Though the municipal ordinance requires those who acquire the records to clearly specify their purpose for using the data, the municipal education board had apparently failed to explain this to guardians and others.

    This issue came to the surface during the municipal assembly's committee meeting on June 9. An official at the education board expressed an apology over the matter, saying that they had planned to distribute explanatory materials to guardians and others in July. The board asked each school to suspend using the devices until explanations are completed.

    Among the 20 major cities designated by national government ordinance in Japan, acquisition of operational logs of school students' tablets only takes place in Nagoya. The education board explained that the acquisition is necessary "to prevent individuals from pretending to be students."

    Even if someone communicates on tablets illicitly by using students' passwords and other information, the education board says it can apparently confirm that the child is not using the device based on the operational records.

    The judgment came in accordance with the city's information security ordinance,and the city installed its own server -- the first case in any of the 20 major cities -- at a cost of some 2.6 billion yen (about $24 million).

    Tablet distribution began in March, and the municipal government had supplied some 69,122 tablets to schools as of the end of May, which accounts for 42% of the 163,000 total devices planned for distribution.

    Due to delays, the task is not expected to be completed until July. Among major ordinance-designated cities, apparently only Nagoya, Shizuoka and Hamamatsu -- all in central Japan -- are yet to complete tablet distribution to schoolchildren.

    The Nagoya Municipal Board of Education explained that the delays are because each device is set up for use at the time of distribution. Apparently, it takes time to install software for workbooks for five school subjects, news browsers, and students' mental care programs among other systems before distribution. For now, students cannot take the tablets home, and leave them in storage in each classroom.

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Oka, Nagoya News Center)

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