The government intends to create a Japanese model for smart cities that will utilize information technology, such as to save energy and ease traffic congestion, and aims to have the model adopted as the international standard, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Monday.
A main pillar of the government’s smart city plan is to ensure the protection of personal information and prevent governments from using data collected by companies providing services, according to sources. In the wake of the spread of the novel coronavirus, Japan apparently intends to mount a challenge to the government-supervised smart city model that China has proposed.
The government will soon set up a task force staffed with officials mainly from the Cabinet Secretariat, the Cabinet Office, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. Smart cities involve various industries, including electricity, automobiles and home appliances, in a cross-sectoral manner. The government intends to deepen cooperation with the private sector by seeking participation in a working group, which will be placed under the task force, such as from telecommunications and IT industries, in order to rapidly draw up a Japanese model.
The government was apparently prompted to make the move by concerns over China’s aggressiveness in pushing its smart city model.
In late April, the Chinese government filed applications with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for four items, such as a method to use data in an urban development model to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections, in a bid to obtain approval from the organization as part of a standard framework for smart cities.
Voting was held on one of the four items in June. According to sources familiar with the matter, Japan has opposed the proposal, and no conclusion has yet been reached on the standardization. The other three will be also brought to a vote within the year.
The Chinese model is more of a surveillance-style approach that uses security cameras to thoroughly confirm the implementation of measures against infections. The model is apparently designed to allow a government to collect information not only in a crisis but also during normal times through corporate service providers. If China’s model is approved, it will serve as a yardstick for international transactions and facilitate the development of products and services based on the model. This could result in making cities become subject to surveillance around the world.
The Japanese government is concerned that national security problems would arise if governments of other countries could collect massive amounts of personal information. Tokyo is also concerned that it will become difficult for Japanese companies to secure profits if they find it difficult to promote products and services overseas that are compatible with a Japanese model.
In creating the Japanese model, the government will consider blocking it from accessing personal data collected by companies, distinguishing it from China’s surveillance model. The specific work likely will be handled by the working group, according to the sources.
European countries, which emphasize the protection of personal information, have promoted a decentralized approach to information management by multiple companies. This idea is close to that of the Japanese model seeking to restrict the government’s ability to collect information. The Japanese government intends to call for international cooperation among countries including the United States, which is increasingly wary of China.