Japanese Officials Resist Ban On Fax Machines

Victory for legacy tech, as pushback by Japanese officials against ban on fax machines overturns a mass switch to email systems

Japan’s decades long love affair with the humble fax machine is not coming to an end anytime soon.

The Japanese government said in June it planned an administrative reform to halt the use of fax machines for officialdom, and instead switch to email systems at ministries and agencies.

But government ministers have backed down after hundreds of government offices insisted that banishing fax would be impossible, the Guardian reported.

Fax machine ban

Researchers have long pointed out that bugs in the protocols that drive fax machines can be used to gain access to sensitive networks in millions of organisations, via multi-purpose printers.

Concerns like these helped convince Japanese authorities that they needed to do away with the fax machine.

Want to know about the history of the fax machine? Read Silicon UK’s Tales in Tech History

The Guardian reported that a Japanese cabinet body that promotes administrative reform said in June it had decided to abolish the use of fax machines “as a rule” by the end of the month and switch to emails at ministries and agencies in the Tokyo district of Kasumigaseki, Japan’s bureaucratic nerve centre.

The rationale for the fax machine ban was that it would enable more people to work from home, it said, citing concerns that too many people were still going 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 had traditionally depended on faxes.

Ban overturned

But instead of embracing the digital age, hundreds of government offices reportedly mounted a defence of the fax machine, insisting that banishing them would be “impossible”, the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper reported.

Indeed, such was the backlash, it forced the Japanese government to abandon its mission to turn officialdom into a digital-only operation, the newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Members of the resistance said there were concerns over the security of sensitive information and “anxiety over the communication environment” if, as the government had requested, they switched exclusively to email.

The Guardian noted that Japanese ministries and agencies use faxes when handling highly confidential information, including court procedures and police work, and the Hokkaido Shimbun said there were fears that exclusively online communication would result in security lapses.

“Although many ministries and agencies may have stopped using fax machines, I can’t say with pride that we managed to get rid of most of them,” an official at the cabinet body told the newspaper.