NTT Boosts Challenge to DoCoMo FeliCa
NTT Boosts Challenge to DoCoMo FeliCa

NTT Boosts Challenge to DoCoMo FeliCa

NTT Boosts Challenge to DoCoMo FeliCa

Well, the cat is really among the pigeons now as former fixed line monopoly Big Brother NTT just announced plans to launch a challenge to the FeliCa smart-card standard promoted by DoCoMo and Sony. NTT said it will support FeliCa, a major boost to the FeliCa standard. But in a classic case of Indian giving NTT has decided to also develop a smart card supporting the government’s terminally unpopular and constantly personal-data -leaking national registry network called “Juki Net.” NTT’s NTT Communications Corp. will develop the rival technology that is supposed to have a boosted encryption technology to make a “do all” multipurpose card for authentication and transactions, including electronic money.

If Japan’s banks, no doubt under heavy pressure from the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications, which is commonly seen as in NTT’s pockets (traditionally, top bureaucrats retire to jobs in NTT and affiliates, commanding huge pensions and salaries, a practice known here as Amakudari, or “Descent from Heaven”) there’s a good chance that the Juki Net card will become the national smart card standard.

But more than a move against DoCoMo, the decision could prove a big blow to Sony. We’ve read figures that more than 60 million smart cards were issued in Japan last year. Local research company estimates that this could grow to This figure is forecast to grow to about 150 million cards in 2005 as high as 400 million cards in 2010.

Sony has worked to move FeliCa into the mainstream, getting its smartcards into all sorts of applications around Asia, and successfully into 7+ million contactless payment Suica (watermelon) cards for Japan Railways. Sony has also been busily signing up credit card companies and convenience store and retail chains.

But Sony, has apparently, forgotten the government which, it seems, has taken the opportunity to promote a different standard, potentially dealing a blow to the whole FeliCa convenience propostion.

As a U.K. citizen, the author supports moves to keep as much personal data about people away from both the governments and corporations as possible, and there is still strong and pronounced resistance to national identity schemes. While the debate on the delimitations of personal privacy and freedom and security are beyond the scope of WWJ’s mandate, anyone who has been refused credit or had his or her information leaked to sales reps selling all forms of spurious tatt knows, it’s already hard enough to secure confidentiality.

But the issues of freedom take second place when confronted with the obvious incompetence of the Japanese government.

The problem in Japan is actually potentially very serious as Juki Net, in several high-profile and embarrassing blunders, the network has been demonstrably as cast-iron as a colander made out of blancmange. A system operated by Kyoto Prefecture’s Yawata Municipal Government crashed only 20 seconds after the system was launched.

When the network started, for example, system integrator Fujitsu was forced to own up to the fact that blackmailers had got hold of intelligence on a network it designed for the self-defence forces. The Defense Agency was immediately caught creating a database on citizens who had requested materials under Japan’s new Freedom of Information law, including information on their political views. The home affairs ministry then issued a mea culpa that it had failed to secure the network to hackers. This revelation was topped by a disclosure that within two days of Juki Net’s launch in August 2002, personal data on roughly 2,500 people had already been mailed to strangers.

Of course, those were just minor teething problems, glitches that have probably been resolved. So confident of this are the Japanese people that in a poll by the Asahi Shimbun, a local paper, 86% said that they expected some personal information to leak from the new computer network, while 76% believe that the project should be postponed. The government also forgot to pass a privacy bill before installing the network too.

And so confident in the government’s ethics and security were local governments that Japan’s second largest city declared registration of its citizens on Juki Net voluntary and six Japanese municipalities refused to join.

Meanwhile Juki Net itself continues to suffer huge rollout problems. The government had originlaly planned to issue 3 million Juki Cards by the end of March this year, but will now release only about 840,000 because, well, you guessed it, few want them and the standards for machines to read the cards have not been unified.

Nagano Prefecture recently launched a cyber attack on Juki Net and, based on results, has decidet to “postpone” rollout. Wonder why? .

The government has also revealed that it is spending a whopping $3.4 million for cyber security nationally for the net and has boosted its cyber police to a total of nine.

So we can all rest assured that our 11-digit personal identification numbers will be kept safe for us by NTT Communications and the government between them.

— The Editors