Follow-up: More on fingerprinting, tracking people electronically, and RFID technology


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Hi Blog.  Update Three this week.  I put out an article three weeks ago that sparked some controversy, about the prospects of the new Gaijin Cards with IC Chips within them being used to track people and ferret out the foreigners with more effectiveness than ever before.  I was accused of scaremongering by some, but oh well.

As a followup, here are some responses and links to germane articles from cyberspace, pointing out how my prognostications may in fact be grounded in reality.  Along with a critique at the very bottom from friend Jon Heese, Tsukuba City Assemblyman, of that controversial article.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Hi Debito:

Saw these two articles and thought I’d pass them along so that you’re up to date with what nonsense the DHS is up to these days:

Homeland Security to scan fingerprints of travelers exiting the US,homeland-security-to-scan-fingerprints-of-travellers-exiting-the-us.aspx

Be sure to read the part about the RFID ‘gaijin’ card.

Cancer patient held at airport for missing fingerprint

Welcome to America, Mr. Tan! Sheesh!  -JK


Japanese university to track attendance with iPhone

As a college student I frequently didn’t go to class when I overslept, when I didn’t feel like it, or heck, when it was Friday. I’m imagining that Japanese students are the same. That’s why Aoyama Gakuin University‘s new plan to keep its students in line is pretty freakin’ clever—possibly even bordering on devious.

Reuters, this June all of the university’s 550 students, and some staff in one unnamed department, will receive a free iPhone 3G. Instead of teachers taking attendance, students are asked to input their ID number into an iPhone app—and to discourage fraud, this app apparently has GPS location data and monitors which Internet router students use.

Of course, knowing the lengths students will go to in order to avoid attending class, it wouldn’t be too surprising to find they’d discovered a way around the system. If only they devoted that much time to their schoolwork.

Further the university apparently is going to also be providing video podcasts of lectures, something American universities have been doing for years. No word yet on if they’re going to be making AGU’s material available on iTunes U.



Debito, feel free to use this in the comments section or just for yourself. As you please. -jon heese

Quoting Debito’s controversial article three weeks ago:

Although the 2005 proposal suggested foreign “swiping stations” in public buildings, the technology already exists to read IC cards remotely. With Japan’s love of cutting-edge gadgets, data processing will probably not stop at the swipe. The authorities will be able to remotely scan crowds for foreigners.

It also means that anyone with access to IC chip scanners (they’re going cheap online) could possibly swipe your information. Happy to have your biometric information in the hands of thieves?

God, Debito, you sure do go on. There are plenty of products available to block remote scanning. Googling “rfid protection” got me the link below.

Personally, I’m rather pissed at the lemming-like acceptance of very dodgy tech in a normally tech-savvy country. There is a company in California which makes a RFID card which has a break in the circuit between the chip and the antenna. Pressing a small bubble in the corner of the card completes the circuit but only when you want the info to be read.

Some Canadian provinces have put their implementation of chips on drivers licenses on hold until the privacy issues are properly dealt with. Why are the provinces even trying to force their citizenry to accept RFID’s in their driving licenses? Why goodness, it’s because the US of F-ing A is forcing them to! So if yer gonna clamp on your tinfoil hat, direct your ire towards the source of the problem, not the Japanese who have been cajoled into this by big brother. And BTW, my new drivers license also has a chip. So it’s not just the poor NJ’s who are being put at risk. This is a much bigger issue than a few foreigners getting screwed over.

RFID’s are small potatoes. As far as tracking, though, you are not gripping your hat tight enough. I would point out that your cell phone is actually much better to track you than a chip. An RFID reader is only really useful within 10 feet. Cell phones know where you are at all times. Anyone with the right access can pinpoint you anywhere in the world.

I would also point out that it’s also a great remote listening device. The NSA may have the ability to turn on your microphone without you even knowing it and broadcast anything being said. And turning your phone off may not be enough. Not even taking out the battery! Phones already have built in batteries which normally only provide juice to preserve your data, like the clock and address book, etc. However, there is no reason to not believe that such internal batteries could just as easily power the microphone for short periods. So grab your foil hat tight and wrap your curls in triple layers for extra protection.

Come again? Pass the law, and then we’ll decide law enforcement procedures? This blind faith is precisely what leads to human rights abuses.

I’m with you on this one. However when it comes to abuses, Japan is still a tamago. Just listen to a few NPR podcasts to get a feel of what it’s like “out there.” 怖いよ!

Still, did you expect the leopard to change its spots? Put immigration policy in the hands of the police and they will do just that police, under a far-removed centralized regime trained to see people as potential criminals.

Though the police have a central control, most cops are of the prefectural variety. Not nearly as ominous as you make out.

Why stop at bugging the gaijin? Why not just sew gold stars on their lapels and be done with it?

This is over the top. Shame on you! Besides, it’s not like us Pilsbury dough boys even need stars to be spotted in a crowd.

Fortunately, a policy this egregious has fomented its own protest, even within a general public that usually cares little about the livelihoods of foreigners. Major newspapers are covering the issue, for a change. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan wants the bill watered down, vowing to block it until after the next general election.

Japan just gets curiouser and curiouser. I am so looking forward to voting in this coming election. But don’t expect the RFID issue to go away. The USA won’t let them.


21 comments on “Follow-up: More on fingerprinting, tracking people electronically, and RFID technology

  • “Besides, it’s not like us Pilsbury dough boys even need stars to be spotted in a crowd.”

    True, but I suppose this is a good example of a caucasian egocentric predicament. I have a feeling the Chinese, Brazilians, Filipinos, and Peruvians in Japan could have a different take on this.

  • randomcommenter says:

    “I was accused of scaremongering by some, but oh well.”

    Next time you consider complaining about the government, police, or politicians scaremongering about foreigners, remember your own response: “Oh well”

    Or, you know, hold yourself up to the same standard you expect of others. Apologize when you make mistakes, and avoid scaremongering. It’s a good idea for everyone, not just people you disagree with.

    — If I had the same standard of power over society as the government, police, or politicians, that would be one thing. But my commenting is not on the same level or standard at all. That should be clear to anyone who thinks deeply about these issues and the way the world works. But again, oh well.

    Besides, regarding the “scaremongering”: I’ve given sources for my claims, evidence for my assertions. Feel free to dispute the evidence if you like. Just don’t personally attack me so glibly for presumed motives.

  • Here’s a good pdf article from the IEEE which might clear a few things up for the non-technical people.

    “Hackers with the proper equipment could record data from an
    RFID chip … and upload the data to [another] chip.
    Such programs could find their way onto the Internet and become available to hackers.”

    The Japanese public have already rebelled against a ‘citizen ID’. I suspect that the NJ population is being used as a testbed here.

    and some more web articles:

  • Michael Weidner says:

    “If I had the same standard of power over society as the government, police, or politicians, that would be one thing. But my commenting is not on the same level or standard at all. That should be clear to anyone who thinks deeply about these issues and the way the world works. But again, oh well.”

    However, you forget one thing. As a political figure (meaning you do things that can have political sway, not that you are an elected official), as well as someone who is often in the spotlight, your comments and opinions are influential in the way that other people view the issues. Granted, you are trying to inform and bring light to issues that we are possibly not seeing, but you still have a responsibility to be unbiased if you do want to be taken seriously by any stretch. I do understand that this forum is your “soapbox” if you will, and you can really say anything you want on it. For the future, it may be helpful or useful to your readers if you were to separate your opinions from stated fact. While you may have evidence to support your claims, unless you have 100% solid proof of your allegations, they are just that; allegations.

    “Besides, regarding the “scaremongering”: I’ve given sources for my claims, evidence for my assertions. Feel free to dispute the evidence if you like. Just don’t personally attack me so glibly for presumed motives.”

    Again, these are claims and your sources are notable, but you again do have to be accountable for what you say on here. Were you to print some of the same things in a public newspaper or the like, if there was a dispute, people would take you to task for it. Press Accountability might be something to look into.

    — Look, we’re still not getting it, are we. The standards between me and public officials, such as said politician, a bureaucrat, or a police officer, are completely different.

    1) I am not a public official. I am not being paid by your taxes. I am not serving at your discretion or pleasure. There is no social compact between you and me which requires me to behave like a politician, a bureaucrat, or a police officer.

    2) I neither wield nor possess the legally-granted power of coercion, arrest, taxation, registration, conscription, or any other power (save the power of persuasion) that affects your life in any way. Unlike a politician, a bureaucrat, or a police officer, who are all perfectly within their powers in certain circumstances to deprive you of life, liberty, and property.

    3) I am not bound by your standards (or any standards, save those within the bounds of the law) to behave any differently than any other individual expressing his or her opinion. If you don’t like it, disagree. If you think I am lying, making arguments without solid proof, or saying things at variance with the facts of the case, say so and show us how. Take me to task all you like, and in public. But do so for the grounds behind my claims, not for the personality depicting them. (And I’m sure educated people who understand how English is written can discern for themselves the difference between opinion and fact.)

    4) In short, disagree with me, even ignore me if you like. But don’t somehow claim that I’m bound by the same rules that affect and govern elected, appointed, tax-paid officials such as politicians, bureaucrats, or police officers. They are bound by different standards, and will (and should) incur different standards of expectation and criticism.

    5) Thus for them, the social responsibility incurred for serving at the public’s pleasure is not dismissible with a mere “oh well”.

    This is Political Science 101: The difference between an individual (including an individual with some public stature) and representative of the government. Shouldn’t have to be explained to adults who understand what a Social Compact is all about. Or even how the world works.

  • Working in the RFID industry, I don’t really get what the big scare is about RFID in cards. First point is the RFID chips they are placing in these cards are working on the 13.56MHz wave length, and are mostly compatible with NFC (what is in most credit cards). They all work off a subset of ISO 21042. The MAXIMUM read range is 20 cm. That is it 20cm, so if you are worried about big brother tracking you, he is going to have better luck with facial recognition software (See microsoft and apple’s picture scanning solutions).

    For any gaijin who has recently updated their drivers licence, well I am sorry to tell you this, that has an IC chip in it as well. Speaking of which, if you use Suica/Pasmo/Nanaco/etc similar chip one again. Still the maximum read range on these are 20cm. Oh I forgot to mention that ALL new passports, no matter the country also have this technology in them.

    If you are paranoid about these RFID (and its not paranoia if they really are watching, but if they are then they are really over paid for doing not much as I don7t do much) then there are products available to block people reading your credit cards, citzen cards (Jyuki cards), train cards, passports, or what ever else has 13.56 MHz IC’s in them or any other RFID on the market.

    Personally I am more offended over my fingerprints and photos being taken, THIS only happens in two countries Japan and guess the second. With the amount of cameras around, the recognition software on the market then that is something more to be concerned about.

    — This is more like it. Take the evidence to task. My responses to specific points:

    1) The fact that the technology is already out there should not further justify its spread. Just as the fact that some countries, say, have nuclear weapons should not justify its spread. Potential spyware should not be passed off as a fait accompli.

    2) Not all driver licenses have IC Chips yet. Mine, gotten last year, doesn’t. But see argument above.

    3) Just because you can block the technology doesn’t justify its spread either, or make it any less snooping or potentially dangerous. Especially when you don’t have privacy laws to prevent its abuse.

    4) Other examples raised (SUICA cards, for example), don’t have this much (or sometimes any) personal data on it. And only 20 cms distance, given the rapid pace of technological change, is not a physical absolute. It will grow.

    But anyway, you’re the expert on this technology. Thanks for sharing it.

  • I had to do a double take with the article “Homeland Security to scan fingerprints of travelers exiting the US” and check the date. It was only dated recently but when I went on a business trip to the US about 4 or 5 years ago they already had the system setup for fingerprinting on the way out of Chicago O’Hare.

    It was a machine set up at the waiting area (for boarding hte plane) and printed out a sheet that you had to show with your boarding pass. My memory is a bit hazy but I don’t think that they were really too worried about checking but the system was set up and was working.

  • “The MAXIMUM read range is 20 cm”

    Right. With a reader of normal power output and receiver gain.
    Note to self: When reading ID cards at a distance, I’ll need to add a few RF amplifiers and a better antenna first…

  • Peter, try checking your facts before you post. Not ALL countries have RFID in their passports as you claim. Canada isn’t introducing RFID to the general public until 2011. (

    And, just to show that Canada is not an outlier: China, Ukraine, Lebanon, Bosnia, and Croatia have not issued it to their citizenry yet – I’m sure there are more countries than this.

    Better luck next time.

  • I didn’t mean to impugn any presumed motives on you. I do find it extremely puzzling, though, that you think that avoiding scaremongering or apologizing for errors is something that only people with power should do. *Everyone* should do that. Otherwise you get into the whole “Well, I’m only a beat cop, it’s not like I’m sergeant” “Well, I’m only sergeant, not like I’m chief of police” “Well, I’m only chief of police…” crap.

    — Sorry, you still don’t get it. That’s not what I’m saying.

  • Deepspacebeans says:

    “An RFID reader is only really useful within 10 feet”

    Not quite accurate. People have built some small, portable and inexpensive readers which can read at a range of over 10 meters at defcon a year or two back. I will agree that your article is a tad sensationalist, but I think it needs to be. No one is really waking up to the kind of invasion of privacy that the growing ubiquitousness of rfid chip technology will permit.

  • Jeff, you are absolutely right. As an electrical engineer with several years experience working with RF I can also attest that the range in this case depends on the “active” equipment used to actually send and receive the signal to the “passive” card.

    It is obvious that governments around the world (not only the US and Japan) are taking greater and greater steps to control and monitor the populace. Similar steps are being taken in the UK and Germany. As for the U.S. many thought a change would occur with tne new administration it has been demonstrated there is no intent to change – only continue to increase – the level of surveillance. Although the means stated in the references above apply to visitors from overseas only I do not think it will be long before this washes over into the general population.

    The battle in Japan is a good fight (fighting against the new ID cards) but I am afraid that whatever resistance is offered this will carry through as I believe that many Japanese government officials honestly believe that we (foreigners) should be monitored and it is for the greater good of the nation.

    I guess this is one issue where I am cynical. True freedom is a thing of the past. The monitoring and surveillance of populations with the intent to control started long before 9/11/2001 and was occuring in different ways in most nations where technology allowed…..the events of 9/11 just gave governments an excuse to accelerate monitoring methods and technologies.

    In tune with Debito’s previous page about nepotism in government in Japan – many nations throughout the world now have a “political class” and the rest of us (this applies to all nationalities).

    George Orwell was a visionary…things are just taking shape 25 years later than he predicted.

  • >>Phones already have built in batteries which normally only provide juice to preserve your data, like the clock and address book, etc. However, there is no reason to not believe that such internal batteries could just as easily power the microphone for short periods.

    I assume Mr Heese heard this from a person whose opinions he usually trusts, however, this is not entirely true. Cellphone address books are stored on a non-volatile RAM (NVRAM) chip, which does not need to be powered. The same sort of thing is in the little USB flash drives that everyone carries — there’s no battery in them, either.

    Even if a battery with just enough capacity to keep the NVRAM data from dissipating were installed, it would not by any means of the imagination have enough power to turn on the microphone -> and connect to the cellphone network. <- This takes much more energy than such a battery could provide.

  • Simon: I don’t get it.If NVRAM chips don’t need to be powered, as you say, then your the phrase that ‘if a battery with just enough capacity to keep the NVRAM data from dissipating….’ doesn’t make sense. Do they need the battery or not?

  • One other issue. Mr. Heese seems to be blaming this all on the USA. Although is article does have good points this is not all the fault of that “horrible” USA.

    Biometric passports (with RFID technology) were first produced by Norway and Japan in 2006, followed by most EU countries in 2006 and then Australia and the US in 2007. The standards for the RFID passport were developed by the ISO/IEC – a European dominated standards board. The US has actually been a bit behind in this technology but we are indeed catching up (I am not claiming the United States as being ready for sainthood…but not everything is the fault of the US). (reference: – with additional references on the page)

    Either way you shake it – it is a bad deal – but Japan is in fact a leader in the implementation and use of this technology.

    Also – I agree with Simpon. Memory in cell phones is non volatile RAM – not requiring power. Although I believe some cell phones incorporate small 3.5V batteries (similar to the batteries used to back up the CMOS in your PC) but these batteries will not provide nearly enough power to allow for transmission.


  • So, guys I was right, protests had no impact on xenophobic GoJ and their sick leaders. I wrote once that we gaijins are without rights here and any protest against something what LDP want to implement towards us (Guinea pigs) won`t work. Hatoyama who implemented fingerprinting has resigned. Well, he did his job, but there are more family members running business called “Japan”. Believe me, this country is slavery of US and sooner or later “guinea pigs” foreigners will go through exit fingerprinting and photographing. Never know, they may find terrorists. Oh, well…now take a look at Japanese “criminals” who can out/in of country without getting into troubles. They are free, not controlled. Their voice have power but not gijins. How about guy who killed British english teacher? He may be out too, he even may drop by and again leave and no one will catch him, not own people who are protected in their own soil, called Japan. I wish EU eye scan, fingerprint and photograph every Japanese coming in first when they implement this system in next few years. I`m sure there would be BIIIIIIG outrage. Oh, well…you cannot do such things to japanese because you discriminate them.

  • I notice several comments here where people are saying that RFID chips are used in all sorts of cards that we use everyday, such as credit cards, Suica, Passmo, etc. The difference here is that with these cards, carrying them is OPTIONAL. In other words, people can carry them only when they feel the need for them, that is they can balance the demerits (possibility of someone reading your personal information) with the merits (conveniency) and choose whether to carry one or not. I do admit that in some cases one is legally required to carry some ID which may or may not have RFID chips (driver’s license when driving a motor vehicle, passport when passing thru ports etc.).
    This is not the same with the proposed Zairyu Cards. We are not allowed this discretion, because if the law passes parliament in its current form, we will have to carry them 24/365 under pain of arrest and prosecution. (If a foreign national is in Japan temporarily, they have to carry their passport which in many cases has an RFID chip, and if not, all soon will; look at the short period it took for all passports to become machine readable.)
    In other words, we have to take all the demerits (the police and any other official possibly being able to scan all your personal data, perhaps also including your income data as it is proposed that payment of taxes by NJ will be also included in the data centralised at the Immigration Dept.; hacking which has been proved to be possible ) without having the liberty of being able to balance this with the merits (of which there ain’t any for us personally).
    Another factor is when will the RFID chip in the cards be read? Is that going to be part of the law when it’s brought into effect? Or will that aspect be left to the discretion of the Government without any controls being actually in the law itself?
    A third point that has come up is whether these chips can be read by scanning from a distance. From what I understand from reading up on the technology (pls correct me if I’m wrong) is that whether they can be read at a distance depends upon the power of the reading device since the chip transmits information with power collected from the power emitted from the reading device itself.
    A fourth point that someone ere brought up is that these chips are also included in the Juuki Net card. If everyone will recall, the Government brought in the Juuki Net cards for the whole Japanese population, but they did not take off because (1) there were so many people against them, (2) people did not find any merit in them and most of all (3) they were not compulsory (and people didn’t have to carry them 24/365).
    Somebody also said that these new cards may be a test case for future application to the whole population. That’s most likely right, because there will be a test group who simply cannot say “No”. And of course once part of the population is cvered, the Government can just turn around and say “See! Doesn’t it make sense.” (And the media will probably also report a dramatic drop in “crimes by foreigners”.)
    Well, that’s my two cents’ worth for today.

  • Doug, although the U.S. wasn’t the first to implement RFID for the citizenry, the Department of Homeland Security began the process in 2002 (under the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act) to require all passports from Visa-waiver countries issued on or after October 26, 2006* to include RFID.[1,2] So, in fact, the U.S. was the impetus and a bully on the matter, by resolving to denying access to those without biometric passports.[2-6] Aside from the tourism aspect, it is essentially an unspoken financial threat to non-compliant countries (due to the centralization of markets under the U.S. trade umbrella) as it would seriously hamper the travel of corporate employees from said countries.

    *The U.S. did extend deadlines for compliance to some countries, but only after the government had shown commitment to the scheme e.g. Canada and it’s 2011 issue date.


  • M-J

    Yes you are correct and yes the U.S. did pose these requirements after 9-11, however as you said the U.S. was not the first to use this technology on its own citizens and I would not consider the EU to be under a financial threat of the U.S. as on many issues the EU has parted sides with the United States. They went along with the U.S. becuase they want and will use this technology. The United States is not perfect, however demonizing the U.S. does not solve problems and I guess as an American overseas the thickness of my skin is wearing through.

    Finally the point of this article was Japan and I believe Japan was a leader in this technology and will eventually use RFID to track foreigners first and then finally its own citizens.

    As for the U.S. and imposition of controls on people’s lives, you ain’t seen nothing yet…just watch the next few years.

    Thanks for the links as they do provide good reference!

    Have a good one

  • Kyushujoe: Sorry, I should have been a little clearer. NVRAM chips can retain their information over very long periods of time, but not forever. The chip inside your Suica card lasts around ten years, for example. That’s why JR says that if you don’t use your card for ten years or more, it will become invalid. Every time you swipe it over the reader it picks up a tiny charge.

    In my sentence beginning with “Even if…” I meant to suggest the hypothetical situation where a battery was installed along with the NVRAM to boost its longevity.

  • Awk,

    “I wish EU eye scan, fingerprint and photograph every Japanese coming in first when they implement this system in next few years.”

    As much as I sympathise with the emotions leading to this, I feel I wouldn’t want that to happen. True, there’s a lot of visible crackdown on gaijin in Japan. Granted, when it comes to safeguards to prevent abuse (and the much more common simple human and/or machine error), Japan (and some other countries) look pale compared to the thought the EU generally gives on those subjects to me as well. Granted, I do not see much effort by the Japanese government to find out what the grievances are about and how to solve this. Randomcommenter may react that the same standards should apply to everyone, but I would add to that that if an organisation has infinitely more means at it’s disposal, they therefore have a proportionally greater responsibility to have higher standards. If the mouse steps on the elephant after the elephant stepped on the mouse, does that really do the same damage?
    But, and we can discuss to great lengths the point that in a democracy the people can be ultimately held accountable for the actions of their government, I think we all have friends of Japanese nationality. I certainly do, and they’re not very happy about these measures either. I wouldn’t want to support taking it out on them. Besides, it’s change I want, better safeguards, better training, better procedures, more investment in time and money, and good accountability to me over my own information, which I consider as my property.
    That being said, the road to a solution may indeed lead via Brussel. Bluntly said, the Japanese government has had it’s chance to adequately protect us, and they are not alone. I think it’s time to go to the European Parliament, explain to them that protection of their citizens in Japan (and other parts of the world) is dropping to a level that in 2009 is simply not acceptable (that by the way doesn’t come as shocking news to them, they’re already concerned), and to ask them to do what we hire them for in the first place, to come up with creative solutions so that we get EU levels of protection wherever we are and put their weight behind it.

  • The Japan Times has an article on the new cards:

    A web search showed me a number of early commentators who seem to be confused about the new system thanks to JT prominently mentioning a date of July 1st this year, when in fact only behind-the-scenes changes come into effect this month, with the actual cards and abolition of re-entry permits for less than a year’s absence not coming in for at least two years. The schedule is at and there is a leaflet trumpeting the new system here:

    One of the supposed perks of the new cards is that they include less information about the foreign resident; specifically, birth date, passport number and employer’s details all go.


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