THE NEW "I C YOU" CARDS
LDP proposal to computer chip foreigners has great potential for abuse
By Arudou Debito
Column 26 for the Japan Times Community Page
November 22, 2005
Draft 7 and Final Draft ("Director's Cut" with links and original document references)
Published version at
Feedback from readers on this (published in the same JT column Nov 29, 2005) at
Asked for your passport number despite being a resident of Japan? Fill out a survey at Olaf Karthaus's website at
People are still reeling from September's LDP landslide election,
realizing that Koizumi can essentially legislate whatever he wants.
foreigners, that brings some bad news.
One of Koizumi's platforms is economic recovery through tourism and
increased contact with outsiders ("Yokoso Japan" and all that).
Yet his administration can't shake its preconception of foreigners as
potential terrorists and criminals.
Koizumi's previous cabinet bore no fewer than three ministers who
mentioned, in their introductory speeches, the alleged foreign crime
wave (even though the media, including this column (October 7, 2003),
has long debunked this).
In December 2004, the cabinet released its "Action Plan for Pre-Empting
Terrorism", explicitly stating the terrorists to be targeted are
essentially foreigners (Community Page, May 24, 2005).
Now Koizumi the tour guide wants to institute high-tech tracking of
every foreigner he invites.
On June 16, 2005, the LDP's Political Affairs Research Committee (seimu
chousakai) issued their "Proposal for a New Immigration Control Policy"
(arata na nyuukoku kanri shisaku e no teigen--click here to page down to entire LDP proposal in Japanese).
Their plan: Issue "IC Cards", or credit-sized identification cards,
containing computer chips to track people.
One form of IC card (the
shutsu nyuu koku card) will be issued to anyone (Japanese or not)
crossing the Japanese border, upon request and at their expense.
other, the zairyuu card, is obligatory and replaces the Gaijin Card.
All resident aliens (except the generational "Zainichi" ethnic
"foreigners", who remain unchipped) must still carry it 24/7 or face
This Gaijin Chip will contain data such as: "name, nationality,
birthday, passport information, visa status, address, workplace,
educational institution if student etc." (page 3, item 1.1.2(3))
Fingerprints will also be
encoded "if the person wants". But just in case, fingerprinting will be
reinstated to imprint foreigners both entering and leaving the country.
(page 1, item 1, particularly page 2 (2) 1)
The LDP sweet-talks the reader by insisting the system is for people's
"protection" (hogo) and "convenience" (ribensei). They mention benefits
to both foreigners and society by tracking alien visits to, quote,
"museums, consultative government bodies, national art museums..."
(page 3, item 1 introduction, and page 4, item 1.4 (1))
It still amounts to central control of untrustworthy elements, and
treating foreigners like criminal suspects.
Some expressed goals of
Gaijin Chipping are, "strengthening control of residency information",
"ease and precision of collection, analysis, and practical use of data
for Immigration", and, more colorfully, "smoking out the invisible
(aburi dasu) illegal aliens". (page 3 item 1.1-2 , particularly page 4 item 2 introduction)
All data will be stored for a vague
amount of time (perhaps indefinitely) in an interestingly-named bureau
called (in katakana) the "Intelligence Center".
Through a joint
Immigration/National Police Agency "task force" on foreigners, this
data will be issued to cops and bureaucrats everywhere "so they can
better service each individual foreigner as a resident without
(page 4, item 1.4 (2), and item 2.(1))
Orwellian overtones aside, consider the policy in practice:
Workplaces, schools, hotels, etc. will be legally required to report
any changes in foreigner employment, domicile, visa, etc., through
swipes of IC Cards at strategically-positioned machines.
Which means foreigners will now find it difficult to, say, make an
anonymous inquiry at a ward office without having their data swiped.
Likewise if you frequent love hotels. The proposal specifically
considers swiping stations for gaijin apartments, weekly mansions, and
other categories of lodgings.
(page 4, item 1.3, particularly (3))
Which means, this expands Japanese prison conditions nationwide.
inmate asks for, say, a pencil in a Japanese prison, he has to give a
fingerprint. A roll of toilet paper? Fingerprint.
Now, go see some
Basho etchings in a museum as a foreigner? Swipe.
Not that I'm advising it, but why aren't they doing this for everyone
in Japan? Japan still has no universal ID system.
Because they can't. Last time the government tried to pull a fast one
on the public like this, through the Juki-Net system, there was
nationwide protest and local governments refusing to participate.
Issues of privacy, especially since laws insufficiently protect people
from government abuse of privileged information, of course were brought
But non-Japanese, apparently, don't have the same right to privacy.
Unlike Japanese, foreigners might commit crime, you see.
There is a pattern here. We already know the Foreign Registry Law was
set up in 1947 specifically to track the alien in our midst.
the only law protecting foreigners from refusals at private-sector
businesses, the Hotel Management Law, required all people (including
Japanese) to write down names and addresses on registry books "for the
control of infectious diseases".
But now, the government states, this
law has become insufficient due to terrorism. So, naturally, they are
targeting foreigners. As of April 1, regulations stemming from the
Hotel Management Law were revised to empower clerks to demand and copy
passports from all foreign tourists.
However, as this column discussed (October 18, 2005), it is being applied to
This is not only against the law, but also--more
damagingly--a breach of trust.
Whenever you give more powers to any
government, you trust them to enforce them responsibly.
ministerial misinterpretation has in this case been a concerted effort.
On February 9, 2005, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare's Health
Policy Bureau clarified the recent hotel regulation changes through
internal Directives 0209001 and 0209004 (click here to page down to them), issued to all prefectural
governors, city leaders, and local MLHW branches.
After justifying the revision in the name of "securing the safety of
guests" (i.e., being kept safe from foreign customers?), the second
directive erroneously states "foreign lodgers" are to be targeted.
(001, page 1, item 1; then 004 page 2, item 3)
Sloppy. Surely these people know how to write Japanese?
It also states that a foreigner not showing his passport should be
reported to the police, because, quote, "there is a chance he isn't
carrying it" (004 page 1 item 1). On these grounds, he or she may actually now be refused lodging (004 page 2, item 2).
Hang on. This in itself is not illegal. Laws state that
foreign residents do not have to carry passports if they have Gaijin
What an administrative mess. Plenty of opportunity for
misunderstandings, arrests of innocents, even denial of the right to
accommodation hitherto guaranteed by law.
Not to mention racial profiling and
criminal treatment, by people legally unentitled to police powers, on
the increasing number of multiethnic Japanese citizens. This will only
increase as the IC Card swipers proliferate.
My point is that no matter how sweet the LDP may make its Gaijin Chip
proposal sound, there is no telling what will happen when bureaucrats
get their hands on it.
Their enforcement has been most unscrupulous
this year, and given the urgency of the policy putsch (and the
vulnerability of foreigners), I foresee great potential for further
Not to mention policy creep.
Think IC Carding will be confined to the
gaijin? Historically, unpalatable policies have been foisted on the
foreigners first and then quietly introduced to the Japanese public.
For example, look what happened to Japan's lifetime employment system,
where full-time work (especially in academia) meant lifetime work.
was replaced, after a century of guinea-pigging the foreigners, with
contract employment, in the form of laws such as 1997's Sentaku Ninkisei
Employers, realizing that they can hire and fire at will (simply
by refusing to renew the contract), and enjoy weak labor law
enforcement and a sympathetic judiciary (see
http://www.debito.org/acadapartupdate05.html), soon adopted the system.
how. According to the National Union of General Workers, contract labor
now makes up 20% of all Japanese men, 50% of all Japanese women, and
90% of foreign labor in the Japanese workforce.
I usually like to finish a
column advising what readers can do about this, if only to offer
But I'm afraid this time there isn't much.
Foreign residents cannot vote (even though half a million of them would
have suffrage in any other developed country), and thus mean little to
politicians. And these days with the opposition greatly weakened, there
is a lack of balance of power.
Koizumi will probably get away with
this. All we can do is wait for the pendulum to swing back.
But probably not in time to save foreigners from constant digital
fingerprinting, or foreign-looking Japanese from being hassled for not
being controllably foreign enough.
Feedback from readers (published in the same Japan Times Community column Nov 29, 2005) at
Want to do something about this? See Olaf Karthaus's survey on hotel refusals at
Also, see debito.org's "What to do if..." page, at
LDP's Political Affairs Research Committee's (seimu
chousakai) "Proposal for a New Immigration Control Policy" (arata na nyuukoku kanri shisaku e no teigen) (Four Pages Total)
LDP PROPOSAL ENDS
Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare's Health
Policy Bureau internal Directives 0209001 and 0209004 (four pages total)
MHLW DIRECTIVES END
Portions Copyright 2005, Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan