Telegraph: Tourists in Japan to use fingerprints as ‘currency’ instead of cash; another case of Gaijin as Guinea Pig


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Hi Blog. First the article, then some commentary:

Tourists in Japan to use fingerprints as ‘currency’ instead of cash
The system aims to make shopping and checking into hotels more convenient for overseas visitors
The Telegraph, by Danielle Demetriou, Tokyo 11 APRIL 2016 • 9:20AM Courtesy of JK and BB

Visitors to Japan may soon be able to forget the hassle of having to change money – with the launch of a new system enabling fingerprints to be used as currency.

The system, which will launch this summer, aims to make shopping and checking into hotels faster and more convenient for overseas visitors, according to the Yomiuri newspaper.

It will involve foreign visitors first registering their details, including fingerprints and credit card information, in airports or other convenient public locations.

The new system will also enable the government to analyse the spending habits and patterns of foreign tourists.

Registered tourists will then be able to buy products, with taxes automatically deducted, from select stores by placing two fingers on a small fingerprint-reading device.

The fingerprint system will also be used as a speedy substitute for presenting passports when checking into hotels, which is currently a legal obligation for overseas tourists, according to reports.

In its first test phase, the project will involve 300 souvenir shops, restaurants, hotels and other establishments frequented by tourists in popular destinations including the mountainous hot spring resort area Hakone and the coastal town Kamakura.

The fingerprint experiment is part of a wider effort by the Japanese government to encourage visitors from overseas to visit the capital in the run up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Officials are hoping to launch the system throughout the country – including Tokyo – by 2020, with as many as 40 million overseas annual visitors expected by that year.

The new system will also enable the government to analyse the spending habits and patterns of foreign tourists, with anonymous data to be managed by a government-led consultative body.

The data obtained from the project will be used to help government officials create effective tourism management policies, according to Yomiuri.

One concern among officials, however, is that some tourists may be reluctant to provide fingerprint information voluntarily due to fears relating to privacy issues.

Fingerprint as payment

Biometrics – using your body to as an alternative to passwords – are on the rise. In February, Mastercard confirmed it would accept selfies and fingerprints instead of account passwords in the UK.

Several mobile wallets already use fingerprints as a way to authenticate payment. Registering debit or credit cards to an Apple Pay-compatible iPhone allows users to make payments or transactions by pressing a thumb or finger to the Touch ID fingerprint scanner in the home button to verify their identity.

Customers can also use it to travel around London’s TfL networks.

Samsung Pay and Android Pay have also started to let consumers pay for things using the fingerprint scanner.

How secure are fingerprints?

In the case of mobile payments, the smartphone maker, such as Apple, does not store your card numbers on the device you’re using for Apple Pay, nor on their servers. Instead, when a card is added, a unique Device Account Number is created and encrypted. This number is stored in a chip within your device called the secure Element.

When you go to make a transaction, the Device Account Number is matched with a dynamic security code unique to that specific payment, which is then processed.

If your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch is lost or stolen, you can suspend Apple Pay remotely or wipe it fully using Find My iPhone.

Fingerprints, like any other security measure, can be spoofed. In fact, researchers have claimed they have hacked a Samsung Galaxy S6 and a Huawei Honor 7 phone by taking a photo of someone’s finger and printing it out with special ink. The other problem is you have only 10 fingerprints – and they can never be changed. [Really? — Ed.]

However it is still considerably more difficult to steal and reproduce a fingerprint than to brute-force guess a password or a pin. Perhaps the most secure approach is to have a two-step authentication system that includes both a password and a fingerprint.



COMMENT:  This article seems a bit too much in thrall to the possibilities of the new technology to pay sufficient attention to the possible abuses of fingerprinting (and no attention to the history of fingerprinting in Japan in particular).  Culturally speaking, fingerprinting in Japan is associated with criminal activity, which is why so many Japanese (and let alone other NJ and Zainichi Korean minorities) are reluctant to have their fingerprints taken (let alone be forced to carry ID) and stored in a leaky government database.  That’s why once again, the Gaijin as Guinea Pig phenomenon is kicking in — where it’s the powerless people in a society who are having government designs for social control being foisted upon them first, before it gets suggested as policy for the rest of the population.

The point is that Japan has long been trying to find ways to track their Gaijin population best (and has managed it with new remotely-trackable RFID-chipped Gaijin Cards).  It is merely expanding upon their reinstitution of border fingerprinting for foreigners only in 2007 that was once seen as a “violation of human rights” barely ten years earlier.  They’ve got all these Gaijin fingerprints from the border.  Why not use them and not only track their whereabouts but also what they do with their money and time?  Once there is enough data for the government to claim, “It’s convenient.  It’s precedented.  It’s safely stored.  And it’s going to make us No. 1 again in something technological,” then watch as public policy switches to suggest it for everyone else in Japan.  Japan’s control-freak bureaucracy will settle for nothing less than as much information and control over its people as possible.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


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9 comments on “Telegraph: Tourists in Japan to use fingerprints as ‘currency’ instead of cash; another case of Gaijin as Guinea Pig

  • Jim di Griz says:

    I absolutely agree with Dr. Debito’s analysis here.
    A NJ would have to be pretty stupid to be so ‘wowed’ by the tech that they would give bank info and access, along with personal information to a foreign government demonstrably in cahoots with organized crime, and no law to protect personal data nor punish those who leak it.

    After all, when you finish your holiday and return home, and THEN you are a victim of fraudulent spending in Japan, what comeback have you got?

    I therefore predict that western financial institutions, once alerted to the risks this stupid J-gov idea poses, will advise their customers against it to reduce their own liability.

    However, I would say that this is a trial roll-out for the ‘My Number’ endgame; the Japanese state is approaching insolvency in the mid-term future (at best) and is desperate to scrape in any piece of that pie it can get, therefore this should be seen as part of the J-govs ‘war on cash transactions’, and campaign to plunge its sticky fingers at will into the average Taro’s bank account.

  • Zig Justice says:

    I have two words for this:

    Fuck. No.

    As mentioned in the article, biometrics, unlike passwords, in principle cannot be reset.*

    And the mention of smartphone tech is disingenious at best; when I use my fingerprint to authenticate myself to my iPhone, there are no servers involved. On top of that, the fingerprint itself is not stored as data that can be easily reconverted into a fingerprint (or even extracted from the device for that matter).

    As a resident of Japan, I’m obviously not the target of the initial roll-out of this plan. (Note I said “initial”.) While I will probably leave Japan sooner than that, the time this sort of system becomes a requirement is the time I stop making excuses for not leaving.

    . o O (*Yes, you can sand off your fingerprints, and there are ocular transplants (obviously you can’t do that just because your iris pattern leaked), but by and large your biometrics are yours for life. At least for vein and iris patterns, you don’t leave them all over everthing you touch, so they’re a bit more private in that sense.)

  • Thing is that the telegraph tries to justify it by talking about Apple pay and Samsung pay which are NOT and probably will never be introduced here due to the use of suica cards etc (plus the J-companies blocking them)

  • Hmmmm…If the 99.4%of companies in Japan are SME’s, and have yet to embrace modern technology such as VISA/CC cards, why does the Govt think this system will prove to be any more wide spread than the current paucity of using CC’s as payments? ….why not simply allow VISA/CC cards to be available everywhere! Instead of the – genkin dake desu!!

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Hmmm… I wonder how the Japanese would feel if this system was adopted in their most popular overseas destinations.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Just because Apple pay and Samsung pay have a highly sophisticated system to protect your ID doesn’t guarantee anything about reliability of a new system that is being installed in Japan. The author doesn’t seem to bother mentioning recent cyber attacks that occurred in Japan, including Japan Pension System and ATMs hacking by international crime organization in South Africa(occurred a couple of weeks ago). And what makes it convincing to give out personal information(such as credit card) and store/manage in the exactly the same system as big data–for the sake of convenience? Boy, this just sounds like private education reformers use kids as guinea pigs to store their standardized test data and release their test score to the third party–which is absolutely disgusting!

  • It was already said above, but I’ll echo it, Fuck no.

    I remember hearing of this before. I expect Japanese media will brag about it plenty, as usual. However, I doubt most people would ever risk such valuable information even in the claims of security. Jez, look at the wonderful My Number BS.

    Horribly Orwellian and a just plain stupid idea.

  • Using biometrics for any critical purpose, and this goes double for financial household, is an inherently bad idea. Any form of authorization must live up to the following two rules of thumb to be reasonably safe.

    – It must be compartmentalized, meaning that a breach of one does not break all. Most people don’t use the same keys for their home and their car, nor the same card for both their bank account and other memberships.

    – It must be fail safe. Not fail proof, every system will fail (even DNA tests, see, and any claim of a fail-proof system for – in this case identification which is then used as authorization – should be taken with a sufficient amount of salt. In the words of a vintage WWII movie: “You see, man, we like to feel we can get out of trouble, quicker than we got into it.”

    Using fingerprints at all breaks the second rule of thumb. Using the same fingers for both border control and payment breaks the first.

    On top of that, it’s like wearing your keys outside of your pocket all day long and pressing a nice cast for people to make copies into every suitable surface you come across. And by the way, you don’t even need to have someone being bad to run into trouble, the systems mix up peoples fingers often enough that on the scale of millions of people this happens all the time. And thanks to it working so great in fictional movies nobody will believe the truth when you get into trouble. Bad idea.


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