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Japanese city worker loses USB containing personal details of every resident

A city in Japan has been forced to apologise after a contractor admitted he had lost a USB memory stick containing the personal data of almost half a million residents after an alcohol-fuelled night out.

Officials in Amagasaki, western Japan, said the man – an unnamed employee of a private contractor hired to oversee Covid-19 relief payments to local households – had taken the flash drive from the city’s offices to transfer the data at a call centre in nearby Osaka.

After spending Tuesday evening drinking at a restaurant, he realised on his way home that the bag containing the drive was missing, along with the personal details of all 460,000 Amagasaki residents. He reported the loss to police the following morning.

The information included the residents’ names, addresses and dates of birth, as well as details of their residence tax payments and the bank account numbers of those receiving child benefits and other welfare payments, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

All of the information is encrypted and password protected, and there have been no reports of data leaks.

“We deeply regret that we have profoundly harmed the public’s trust in the administration of the city,” an Amagasaki official told reporters.

The city said in a statement that it would “ensure security management when handling electronic data. We will work to regain our residents’ trust by heightening awareness of the importance of protecting personal information.”

It is not the first time a local government has been left red-faced in connection with Covid-19 assistance.

Last month, a man in the town of Abu was mistakenly sent ¥46.3m (£279,000/US$343,000) in Covid-19 relief funds intended for 463 low-income households. Local authorities said this week they had recovered all of the money from online payment agencies after the man claimed he had gambled away the entire amount.

The Amagasaki incident raises concerns about the continued use of outmoded technology by some Japanese entities.

Last week, media reports said dozens of firms and public bodies were racing to migrate from Internet Explorer before Microsoft retired the browser at midnight last Wednesday.

A sense of “panic” had gripped businesses and government agencies that were slow to end their reliance on IE before Microsoft officially halted support services, leaving remaining users vulnerable to bugs and hacking, Nikkei Asia said.

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