Due to the widespread use of smartphones, the popularity of social media and the rise of big data business, it has become easier to identify specific individuals based on information that was previously regarded as being non-personal. Given this situation, Japan's Act on the Protection of Personal Information has become insufficient to ensure the protection of privacy.
Incidents involving invasions of privacy have occurred both in Japan and overseas. While seen as a transient problem in Japan that was caused by the rapid spread of smartphones, the activities of global companies such as Google can be construed as a challenge to the ways of protecting personal information and privacy, which requires a review of institutional and social mechanisms.
Japanese consumers are not particularly aware of the circulation of their personal information on the Internet, and so have little idea of how to safeguard their privacy. Instead, they tend to rely on the protective measures taken by service providers as well as those adopted by the government.
At the beginning of 2012, both the United States and the European Union (EU) announced revisions to their privacy legislation. While the U.S. is encouraging the industry's self-regulatory efforts, the EU is moving towards strengthening its legislation. Nevertheless, both the U.S. and the EU are moving to address the issues based on a similar awareness. The proposed regulations aimed at (1) behavioral targeting, (2) automatic profiling and the buying/selling of personal data and (3) the protection of children's privacy will also have a major impact on Japan.
To appropriately deal with the coming of big data society, there is a need to review the current protection system and enable a shift from the protection of "personal information" to the protection of "privacy" by implementing measures such as a "Privacy by Design" program. Enforcement of the My Number law, for which legislative proceedings are now underway, will be a touchstone in this regard. (My Number refers to an identification number for social security and taxation.)