Hi Blog. The issue just keeps on rolling. LA Times yesterday below says everything we’ve been saying, for a big US Pacific Coast audience with close ties to Japan (the article even includes Hatoyama and Al-Qaeda, just didn’t mention the GOJ’s connecting “contagious diseases and terrorism” to all NJ only); Terrie’s Take this morning even gives a shout-out to Debito.org as an “excellent” source (thanks!). Notable quotes:
LAT: “Japan’s justice minister… even offered a bizarre personal anecdote to explain how easy it was for non-Japanese to sneak into the country. “A friend of my friend is a member of Al Qaeda,” Kunio Hatoyama told foreign reporters in Tokyo, saying that the man had entered Japan numerous times using fake passports and disguises. Hatoyama later backtracked slightly on his story, distancing himself from any connection to Al Qaeda and raising suspicions that he had embellished his anecdote to press the case for fingerprinting foreigners.”
Terrie’s Take: “We’ll say up front that the proposed measures have been an unmitigated public relations disaster for the Japanese government and the Justice Ministry in particular. Although the basic idea was to cooperate with the USA and other nations to try to catch potential terrorists at the borders, the measures have in fact proven to be disjointed, unorganized, and ultimately unworkable. They have also managed to infuriate pretty much every long-term, tax-paying, foreign resident in Japan.”
I’ll put Terrie Lloyd’s write up first, then Bruce Wallace of the LAT’s second. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd. (http://www.terrie.com)
General Edition Sunday, November 11, 2007 Issue No. 445
+++ WHAT’S NEW
Back in early October (TT-440) we talked about the coming changes at Immigration, where the authorities have decided in their wisdom that every foreigner in the land except those who are third generation Koreans and Taiwanese, diplomats, US soldiers, and kids, will be subject to anti-terrorist biometric checks at the airport every time we come into Japan. Since writing about that, we have had lots of email and have been following the situation pretty closely. Many thanks to all those people dropping us notes about the changes as they have been happening.
We’ll say up front that the proposed measures have been an unmitigated public relations disaster for the Japanese government and the Justice Ministry in particular. Although the basic idea was to cooperate with the USA and other nations to try to catch potential terrorists at the borders, the measures have in fact proven to be disjointed, unorganized, and ultimately unworkable. They have also managed to infuriate pretty much every long-term, tax-paying, foreign resident in Japan.
Let’s get an update on what is happening now.
As many readers will already know, the Immigration folks have decided to put in place a pre-registration system and an “automatic” gate at Narita, so that permanent residents and others with re-entrant visas will be able to by-pass the tourist lines so long as they are pre-registered. You can apparently pre-register either at the Tokyo Immigration Bureau at Konan, inconvenient at the best of times, or at Narita Airport.
The pre-registration counters will be at the South Wing of Terminal 1 and South Side of Terminal 2. Note that the opening times at Narita are limited to 9.00am-5.00pm. So it’s probably a good idea to go early. There is no indication of how long the pre-registration process takes, but comments we’ve heard so far are a few minutes if there is no queue.
However, having said that, since literally tens of thousands of people with re-entry visas will be leaving for Christmas, you should leave plenty of time to get the pre-registration done. For documentation you just need the application form (presumably they’ll give it to you) and your up-to-date passport.
Now, if you happen to be using an airport other than Narita, including Haneda, Nagoya, and Osaka, there will be no automatic gates, and thus pre-registration isn’t going to do you much good. We can see this riling a lot of foreign business people who have picked Japan for lifestyle but who frequently travel to China and elsewhere in Asia for business. For those people, moving to Singapore right now has to look pretty good. It seems that the Japanese government isn’t really that interested in foreign investment after all…
Now for those of you used to the Japanese floating new laws and changing them after feeling the heat from the public, there is some hope. We have heard through a well-placed friend that the Immigration senior management are surprised at the amount of negative reaction by the foreign community. While their being surprised shows just how out of touch they are, in any case we heard that Immigration may in fact consider exempting permanent residents from the re-entry procedure after-all. If they do this, at least they’ll be bringing themselves back in line with the USA, where this whole biometric fiasco started in the first place. There, the green card holders are allowed to enter immigration through the US Citizen lines.
As the procedures have started to unfold (why do we get the sense that they’re making this up as they go along?), there has been plenty of newspaper reader feedback in the Daily Yomiuri and other foreign press. You have the Japan apologists stating, “Well, these measures aren’t so bad, what’s a little fingerprinting and eye scanning every now and again if it keeps the country safe?” through to “Oh, those whiney foreigners, if they don’t like it, let them go home.”
The fact is that the fingerprinting and eye scanning really are just an irritating inconvenience. What is making people mad is how the government has decided that foreigners living in Japan for decades, and in a number of cases those who were even born here, are now lumped in with tourists coming in for a week on the way to China or elsewhere. This seemingly insignificant rule change has woken up a lot of resentment over how Japan treats its foreign residents in general.
Getting past the feelings of shabby treatment, you then get to a more disturbing situation — what happens to the data after it is collected? At the end of October, we attended an Amnesty International Japan press conference, where a prominent leader of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Barry Steinhardt, related what is done with the data collected in the USA’s US-VISIT program.
He made some very interesting points. Firstly, that the terrorist alert database being used by the USA contains 750,000 names — an order of magnitude larger than the actual number of likely terrorists in the world — meaning that there are a lot of people on that list who shouldn’t be there.
Secondly, the database has been proven many times to be flawed thanks to its very superficial data. Essentially, any person with a suspicious first name/last name, like that of Dr. Robert J. Johnson, is flagged at the port of entry and they are regularly dragged off for grilling. Treatment like this of innocent people has naturally caused tourism to the USA as a percentage of the global travel market to fall — in fact by 35% since 1992. Japan can look forward to much the same result.
Thirdly, although no one has admitted as such, the ACLU suspects from recent cases involving activists prevented from entering Canada, that the USA is now sharing its database with other nations.
The announcements by Immigration say that the new biometric checks are being put in place to detect known terrorists as they enter the country. However, Japan doesn’t possess its own list of foreign terrorists, mainly because there hasn’t been an incident of foreign terrorism on Japanese soil (well, OK, North Korean abductions, maybe) since WWII. Thus, for them to correlate tourists entering the country, they’ll have to borrow someone else’s list. The ACLU and Amnesty are hinting that it will be the faulty US list. Too bad if your name happens to match one of the 750,000… Any Bob Johnsons among our readers? Let’s hope “Taru Suzuki” or a similarly popular Japanese name doesn’t suddenly make it to the list.
What is interesting, too, is that while Japanese names and biometrics are not on the Japanese database because the electorate wouldn’t stand for it, for those Japanese nationals traveling to the USA and UK, their data is indeed being captured — and it is only a matter of time before this data is fed back to Immigration here in Japan. This smacks very much of a back door effort by the powers that be to collect global data — and there isn’t much the civil rights people can do about it.
Then we heard another interesting tidbit. Now you might think that with all the hot technology for accurately scanning fingerprints and eyes, this data would be whizzing back in real time to some massive Interpol-like database, and that if there was a match then the Immigration officer’s screen would start flashing red and bells would start clanging.
Nope, nothing like that. What we heard is that the data is “batched” and sent to a screening center for analysis. Apparently it takes up to 24 hours to turn the data around! That’s probably just the right amount of time for an earnest terrorist to catch a bus over to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, let off some sort of device, and high-tail it back overseas.
So what we have here is a FUBAR situation of the highest order. 1) A law that no one really thought too hard about, but which will irritate the hell out of a lot of tax-paying, law-abiding permanent residents. 2) A computer database that is riddled with inaccuracies and is being adopted to buttress the Japanese screening effort. Let’s hope it gets some important Middle-eastern customer of Mitsui or Marubeni locked up for a week or two until the authorities find out that the database is unreliable. 3) A processing system that is so slow that a real terrorist could enter and exit the country without being detected in time.
There is a petition that you can sign to protest the new procedures. The URL is: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/fingerprints-japan/index.html. This petition will be presented to the General Affairs Division, Immigration Bureau, at the Ministry of Justice.
Also, we can recommend the website of Debito Arudou, which has an excellent running log of developments on fingerprinting and similar human rights issues. You can find it at:
We’d be interested in hearing the experiences of people who have pre-registered on November 20th, and/or who passing back into Japan as permanent residents.
Japan’s welcome mat getting prickly
New rules requiring fingerprints and digital photos of visitors are revealing about attitudes toward foreigners, critics say.
From the Los Angeles Times November 11, 2007
By Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Courtesy of Jon Lenvik
TOKYO — The kind of greeting a foreigner receives at immigration upon arrival at an international airport can be a good, if imperfect, indication of the country that waits on the other side of the barrier.
London’s Heathrow? Long queues and lousy service.
New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International? Crumbling infrastructure and over-the-top bureaucracy.
Some Middle Eastern airports? Slow-moving lines that can be circumvented with the right connections and cash.
Now the Japanese government has created new immigration procedures for foreign visitors — rules that critics say are all too revealing about official attitudes toward foreigners.
On Nov. 20, Japan will begin fingerprinting and photographing non-Japanese travelers as they pass through immigration at air and sea ports. The government says the controls are a necessary security measure aimed at preventing a terrorist attack in Japan.
The new system is modeled on the U.S. program instituted in 2004 that takes digital photos and fingerprints of travelers entering the United States on visas. But the Japanese system goes further by requiring foreign residents — in addition to visitors — to be photographed and fingerprinted.
There are exceptions: diplomats, children younger than 16, U.S. military personnel serving in Japan, and long-term residents of Korean or Chinese descent whose presence here is largely owed to Imperial Japan’s overseas conquests. But all other foreigners will be scanned each time upon entry.
Critics say the data collection is a dubious terrorism-fighting measure, instead reflecting the government’s desire for closer surveillance of foreigners.
“The Japanese government has a long history of not wanting long-term foreign residents, and they really feel they need more control over foreigners,” said Sonoko Kawakami of the Japanese chapter of Amnesty International. “The government just wants to gather as much information as possible on people.”
The only terrorist spectaculars in Japanese history have come from homegrown groups: the Japanese Red Army, which conducted attacks around the world in the 1970s and ’80s, and the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which carried out a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
But officials say Tokyo’s support for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan makes Japan a target, and taking biometric data such as fingerprints and digital facial photos is the only way to nab terrorists traveling on fake passports.
At least that was the recent contention of Japan’s justice minister. He even offered a bizarre personal anecdote to explain how easy it was for non-Japanese to sneak into the country. “A friend of my friend is a member of Al Qaeda,” Kunio Hatoyama told foreign reporters in Tokyo, saying that the man had entered Japan numerous times using fake passports and disguises.
Hatoyama later backtracked slightly on his story, distancing himself from any connection to Al Qaeda and raising suspicions that he had embellished his anecdote to press the case for fingerprinting foreigners.
But Hatoyama has long been among the senior public officials who believe Japan is already too open to overseas workers. When he became justice minister in August, Hatoyama made it clear he had no intention of proceeding with earlier plans to allow in more unskilled workers.
That, he warned, could lead to an increase in crime.
Statistics, however, show that the number of crimes committed by foreign visitors is falling. And despite alarm about particularly sensational crimes that attract media attention, Japan’s overall crime rate is declining or flat.
That hasn’t stopped some senior Japanese politicians from stoking anti-immigrant fires by contending that foreigners living in Japan commit a higher proportion of crimes. And those contentions have sent bureaucrats in search of ways to weed out the “good” foreigners, presumably those with money to invest, from “bad” ones, such as the Chinese pickpocket gangs that get so much media attention here.
The new immigration system appears to be one answer. Fingerprinting is actually a resumption of a system that was abandoned in 2000 after strong protests by long-term Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese residents who resented being fingerprinted in their own country. A jittery, post-9/11 America provided the initiative for the Japanese to revive it.
The law instituting the new regime passed parliament last year with very little outcry. The Federation of Japanese Bar Assns. was a lonely critical voice, complaining that fingerprinting people who had already been granted residency was an infringement on civil liberties. But the government avoided a repeat showdown with the Koreans and Chinese by exempting them from the new requirements.
“The Japanese public does not see this as ‘our’ problem,” said Masashi Ichikawa, a human rights lawyer in Tokyo. “The climate is that it is legitimate to be ‘against terrorism,’ and that people just have to follow the rules.”
The fingerprinting issue underscores the Japanese dilemma in dealing with foreigners.
On the one hand, in this age of increased global mobility, the threat of terrorism, though remote, is a plausible one.
But on the other, the Japanese government needs more foreigners. Japan has low unemployment by global standards and faces a demographic crunch as its population ages and workforce shrinks. Tokyo is fighting to preserve its position as a world financial center as competitors such as Singapore actively cultivate a welcoming aura for foreign businesses.
And Japan is still searching for ways to address its tourist deficit at a time when well-heeled travelers have a widening array of Asian destination choices.
It remains to be seen whether treating every visitor as a potential terrorist, until their fingerprints prove otherwise, is the best way to roll out the welcome mat.
Naoko Nishiwaki of The Times’ Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.