Japan’s Government Will Ban Fax Machines From Schools

Japan’s Government Will Ban Fax Machines From Schools

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Fax machines at Japanese schools
Picture: 長兵衛 / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Welcome to the 21st century: as part of its ongoing digitization efforts, Japan's telling schools that fax machines are so yesterday.

Students’ names and phone numbers are leaking out of online databases and off physical documents. Recent cases of schools mishandling personal information are hopefully the last of their kind. To curb these issues, Japan’s government plans to ban all fax machines and oversee the digitization of all school duties.

No more faxes – do you copy?

Fax machines in Japan
The fax machine use for Sending documents in the office, concept equipment needed in office

According to a Monday report by the Yomiuri Shimbun, officials will meet on December 20th. There, they plan to disclose plans to ban fax machines from schools and digitize all school communications by 2026.

Fax machines are still how the Board of Education communicates with schools in some local municipalities.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Kishida will lead the government’s conference for administrative and financial digital reform.

While Japan has a reputation as a high-tech powerhouse, old technology still lingers. As of 2020, 33.6% of households in Japan said they had a fax machine. That figure skews heavily by age, however: only 1.9% of people in their 20s say they own one.

Pain in the fax for teachers

Progress in the digitization of school management varies across local municipalities. Some municipalities are so far behind that the Board of Education sends ledgers for student admissions on paper via fax. Teachers receiving such faxes have had to manually type in the paper documents’ information into computer systems.

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There have also been cases of teachers having to press seals onto attendance documents by hand.

In response to such reports, the government pledges to ban all fax machines. Its replacement? A digitized school management support system.” The system aims for improved productivity in school duties.

In addition, officials plan to publicize a centralized database. The new database will contain information from each school to keep track of the system’s progress.

Revisions to the budget to digitize relevant systems will also be part of Wednesday’s talks.  

Minister responds amidst leaks, hacks

Hacker doing hacker things

Minister of Education Moriyama Masahito said in a previous conference talk that the ministry is “aware of some cases in which loads of information on student enrollment are distributed to schools via paper.”

“We will strongly promote digitization and standardization of schoolwork, such as streaming services (for lessons, class material, etc.) across wide areas.”

Papers lost +300 names and numbers

This move comes after a string of information leaks, both online and off.

In October, Koiwa High School in Tokyo lost paper documents with the names and phone numbers of over 300 students. The Board of Education said a teacher was chaperoning students on a school trip and misplaced the documents.

The lost papers contained 356 student names and 330 phone numbers. The school kept the records in case of emergencies that would require contact information.

The school issued apologies to students and parents. It said there was no indication that the lost information was leaked or abused by third parties.

Tokyo’s Board of Education has ordered public school officials to stop carrying documents containing personal information beyond school grounds. Only managing staff will be allowed to possess such documents.

Online database leaks, 2000 students’ information lost

Of course, digitization is no defense against data loss. Poor security measures have led to at least one massive loss of school records in Japan recently.

Officials in Saitama Prefecture reported that 120,000 files of personal information had been leaked. The culprit? A mathematics learning app by Casio Computer Co., Ltd. called ClassPad.net. Officials say hackers accessed the database, compromising the personal information of about 2,000 students from eight public high schools.

The leaked information included names, email addresses, and school names.

No damages are known at the time of writing. The prefecture has urged each school to have students and parents change their passwords.

Other government-run systems have come under fire lately for mishandling citizen’s data. Japan’s My Number national identification system has been plagued with issues where people have been given someone else’s personal information.

Sources

[1] 学校のファックス原則廃止へ…入学者名簿の手入力・出席簿への押印など、校務のデジタル化推進. 読売新聞

[2] デジタル行財政改革会. 内閣官房

[3] デジタル行財政改革会議(第2回)議事次第. 内閣官房

[4] 生徒300人余の個人情報が記載された資料都立高校教員が紛失. NHK

[5] 埼玉 県立高校8校で個人情報約2000人分流出したおそれ. NHK

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