Most bureaucrats could be expected to welcome the opportunity to be freed from the tyranny of the fax machine. But in Japan, government plans to ship the must-have item of office equipment from the 1980s in telex fashion have in effect been scrapped after they met resistance from “facsimile” officials.
In June, a cabinet body promoting administrative reform said it had decided to abolish the use of fax machines “as a rule” before the end of the month and switch to emails at ministries and agencies in the Tokyo district of Kasumigaseki, the Japan’s bureaucratic nerve center. .
The move would allow more people to work from home, he said, citing concerns that too many people still went to the office during the coronavirus pandemic to send and receive faxes.
Exceptions would be made for disaster response and interactions with the public and businesses that have traditionally relied on faxes.
Yet instead of embracing the digital age, hundreds of government offices staged a defense of the much-maligned machine, insisting that banishing them would be “impossible,” according to the Hokkaido Shimbun.
The backlash has forced the government to abandon its mission to turn the bureaucracy into an exclusively digital operation, the newspaper said on Wednesday.
Resistance members said there were concerns about the security of confidential information and “anxiety about the communication environment” if, as requested by the government, they switched exclusively to email.
Japanese ministries and agencies use faxes when handling highly confidential information, including court proceedings and police work, and the Hokkaido Shimbun said there were fears that exclusively online communication would result in security breaches.
“Although many ministries and agencies may have stopped using fax machines, I cannot proudly say that we managed to get rid of most of them,” a cabinet body official told the newspaper.
The war against fax machines is part of an attempt by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to improve efficiency by adopting digitization for administrative procedures.
Last year he ordered officials to make plans to stop using hanko seals in the documents, a tradition that had been criticized as outdated and that required face-to-face interaction that ran the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Hanko is widely used in Japan for signing contracts, business transactions, and various administrative procedures, including enrollment in the national pension program. Ministries were urged to end hanko requirements for 785 types of procedures, or 96% of the total, including year-end tax adjustments and tax returns.
But some in the private sector were skeptical about Japan’s belated adoption of paperless bureaucracy. While nearly 75% of executives at small and medium-sized businesses said in a survey last year that they were in favor of abolishing hanko, just over half admitted that it would be difficult to end the practice.
The move was also met with opposition from politicians representing areas known for their hand-carved hanko, who described them as a “symbol of Japan.”