Japan Faces Crisis of Confidence Over Internet Safety

Four out of five Japanese Internet users feel are worried about their privacy and feel insecure when using the Internet, according to the results of a government survey.

The survey, published as part of the annual White Paper on Information and Communications in Japan, found Internet users in Japan are worried about multiple aspects of being online. However, the government said their worries might be out of proportion with the actual risks they face.

Around 32 percent of those surveyed feel insecure with regard to their privacy online while a further 50 percent said they feel relatively insecure, the survey found. On information security issues such as viruses and worms, just under 32 percent feel insecure and 51 percent relatively insecure. The survey was conducted online and drew responses from 2,000 people.

Projected onto the entire Internet population of Japan, it means over 70 million worry about safety when online.

"There's a difference between safety and a sense of security," said Chigusa Saeki, deputy director of the Ministry of Information and Communications' economic office, during a news briefing. "People feel unsafe but they use the Internet anyway."

According to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) data reproduced in the white paper, Japanese citizens generally have more worries about safety in their offline lives than those in other countries. The number of people worried about crime is around 35 percent in Japan, only surpassed by Greece and Luxembourg, but the actual level of victimization makes Japan the second-safest country in the OECD survey, after Spain.

But no matter what the actual danger, the problem facing the government is the perception of danger.

"The government is taking concrete steps to improve online safety," said Saeki, pointing to the "Secure Japan" initiative that seeks to strengthen information security in government systems.

"In the past people didn't feel safe on airplanes but now few people have problems with flying," she said.

Despite a string of well-publicized policies, the Japanese government has been generally slow adopting e-government systems and the vast majority of government services still require a visit to the city hall or a government office.

Highlighting e-government services overseas, particularly the "Borger" government portal in Denmark, the white paper calls on the Japanese government to launch a similar one-stop shop for government services.

But the Internet user survey indicates the government might face a challenge persuading users to make use of the services.

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