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Privacy concerns now stymie census takers

Date Posted: 2005-10-13

Okinawans concerned about loss of privacy are rebuffing efforts by workers gathering data for the Japan Census.

The census is conducted once each five years, and thousands of special employees working the project are finding it isn’t easy. New privacy laws enacted and implemented in April make it difficult to obtain information from citizens. Notification letters have been sent to all Japanese households telling of the census, and of requirements to cooperate.

It isn’t that easy, and phony census takers are already popping up to steal personal information in some locations. The census requires all citizens to fill out a questionnaire giving information on family members, relationships, birthdays, homes owned or rented, occupations and type of work.

This is the first census where privacy issues have cropped up. In the past, the census was a simple and open process, with no government concerns for individual privacy.

Census workers are frustrated. In Naha City alone there are more than 120,000 homes with more than 330,000 citizens which must be polled by the 1,800 workers assigned. On the receiving end of verbal abuse by residents, 200 workers have already quit the jobs citing stress. “This year is different,” says one veteran pollster. “Some citizens are questioning ‘Are you a real census taker? Please show me your ID’. We do, but still citizens don’t believe.”

The census takers’ identification cards do not have photographs, and citizens are doubting the workers. “I’m working so hard and seriously, but people are saying I’m a robber or murderer or making fraud,” said one. “No more. I don’t want this job.” He said people are refusing to open their doors or refusing to give information.

Government officials say they’re studying the problem, looking for ways to reassure the public the information gathered will remain private.

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