Government

Japan government declares ‘war’ on archaic floppy disks

‘Where does one even buy a floppy disk these days?’ asked Japan’s digital minister.
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Don’t copy that floppy. Age-old advice that is once again relevant as the Japanese government aims to reform around 1,900 official procedures that still mandate the use of outdated storage media. Currently, those rules require many types of business documents submitted to government agencies be sent in on floppy disks, CD-ROMs, or even the MiniDisc, a 30-year-old alternative to digital cassette tapes that maxes out at around 140 megabytes of data storage.

Japanese digital minister Taro Kono tweeted on August 31 that he “declares a war on floppy disks” and will change “regulations so you can use online.” According to Bloomberg, Kono said at a press conference that the agency would be “reviewing these practices swiftly.”

“Where does one even buy a floppy disk these days?” Kono added, saying Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had promised to support the modernization initiative.

Kono styles himself as a reformer targeting inefficient bureaucratic procedures, such as requirements that some 14,900 government procedures be certified with a personalized seal called a hanko. At the press conference, Bloomberg wrote, Kono said he would be going after fax machines next.

Analog bureaucracy. Despite being home to some of the world’s biggest electronics manufacturers, Japan is way behind on digital transformation. As of 2019, according to the Economist, just 7.5% of government procedures could be completed online, and in 2021 Japan was ranked 27 out of 63 countries in the IMD’s World Digital Competitiveness ranking.

While the government established a digital agency in 2021 to lead reforms, tens of thousands of national and local rules behind the outdated administrative procedures stand in the way. Japanese agencies often have piles of outdated media lying around, as illustrated in a 2021 incident where Tokyo police admitted they lost two floppy disks containing the personal information of 38 men who underwent background checks when applying for public housing.

The Japan Times reported another of Kono’s initiatives will be to encourage telework at government agencies, which have seen decreased job applications and increased departures of long-time employees. Teleworking has also been stymied in the private sector by bureaucratic procedures that, prior to reforms, couldn’t be completed remotely, as well as work setups that assume workers will be gathered in person.

Don’t get too cocky. American readers should consider that the US military only stopped using IBM Series/1 computers and floppy disks to manage the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which is capable of making a good go of wiping humanity off the face of the planet, in 2019. The US Government Accountability Office’s IT and cybersecurity unit estimated in 2021 that federal agencies use software that is, on average, seven years old, with some systems dating back 20 to 50 years.—TM

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Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming. Our IT Brew newsletter delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.