Hands off our fax machines, Japanese tell ministers

Tokyo: Japanese bureaucrats are fighting back against orders to do away with the fax machine, a long-obsolete technology that remains a cornerstone of every ministry department in the country.

When Taro Kono was appointed minister of administrative reform in September with a mandate to improve efficiency by cutting through the nation’s legendary red tape, he set his sights on sending the fax machine the way of the typewriter.

Workers in Japan have resisted a ministerial edict to stop using the relatively ancient technology of fax machines.

The nation’s over-reliance on nearly 60-year-old technology was the target of fierce criticism in the early stages of the pandemic last year, with overstretched doctors condemning the legal requirement that hospitals complete paperwork on new cases by hand and then fax the data to public health centres to compile statistics.

A study showed that every government department, virtually every Japanese company and more than one-third of the homes in Japan still had a fax machine.

After a grace period, Kono’s department said it would abolish the use of fax machines “as a rule” by the end of June and switch to emails.

However, there has been resistance to the directive, with the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper reporting that more than 400 bureaucrats had contacted their superiors claiming it would be “impossible” to abolish the fax.

The reservation appears to be concern over security of electronic messages, with faxes being virtually impossible to hack. Critics suggest this is merely an excuse for older, less tech-savvy bureaucrats to learn new IT skills.

The agency overseeing Kono’s reform drive has been subdued about the campaign since the June deadline passed and appears now to be tacitly condoning the continued use of faxes.

The Telegraph, London

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