(Illustration by Arudou Debito)

Downloadable discrimination
The Immigration Bureau's new snitching Web site is both short-sighted and wide open to all manner of abuses

By Debito Arudou
The Japan Times: March 30, 2004

There has been a lot of press recently not just on foreign crime (again), but on unethical methods of collecting data on foreigners.

First was a plan by a branch of the National Police Agency to establish a crime database of "foreignness" (Zeit Gist: Jan. 13, 2004) by collecting organic samples from crime scenes.

Now the Immigration Bureau has set up a Web site for the public to inform on "illegal" residents.

The new site has raised a stink with several human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Solidarity Network for Migrants, Japan, who have decried this "cyber xenophobia" and demanded the site be removed from servers.

Surprisingly, officials have promised a "review, " but have refused to abolish the service.

Of course, many other countries have ways for the public to report visa overstayers and the like.

However, Japan's criteria for nominating "violators" are astonishingly open-ended.

From the end of last month, the site has offered informants the following pre-set reasons for reporting on someone:

Not all options involve illegality, and there are avenues for abuse.

For instance, you can snitch on someone because you are bothered by -- or even just outright hate -- foreigners (item 3); or because they should be sent home for some "compassionate" leave (item 7); or the unemployment lines were too long today (item 11); or even if the foreigner has a zit on his nose (item 12).

Actually, you don't even need a reason (item 13).

But the worst thing about the site is the anonymity. Snitches are not required to give any verifiable contact details about themselves.

Why, in more enlightened law enforcement systems, does the accused have the right to know the accuser? Because it keeps the accuser accountable for what he claims. But thanks to this site, anyone can squeal on anyone for any reason -- and get away with it.

So what's to stop any "legal" foreigner walking into an Internet cafe, accessing the site, using a false name and e-mail address and ratting on themselves? Filling Immigration's inbox with bogus data? Nothing, actually.

Indeed it might help police realize that they should think before enacting these half-baked policies.

Although I would never, ever suggest that any "legal" foreigner actually do such a thing.

But why are these policies, which are as full of holes as the police force's own solved crimes files, even seeing the light of day in the first place?

It's because the newest Koizumi Cabinet wants to restore Japan to being "the world's safest country." But somehow, "safety" and "foreigner" have become antonymous, with a government putsch to halve the number of visa overstayers within five years being linked to the restoration of public order.

Alas, foreigners are easy targets. Japanese laws governing extranationals in this country exist not to protect their rights in any way, but simply to police them.

This column has previously talked about police tendencies to spot-check foreigners for suspicious activities, for instance cycling a bicycle.

We all know (or should know) that only foreigners can be arrested -- yes, arrested -- for not carrying ID at all times. Japanese citizens are protected -- by law -- against this kind of harassment.

When a section of the population is targeted in this way, crime statistics become skewed.

The National Police Agency announced on March 11 that, sure enough, foreign crime rose again in 2003.

Up several times compared to ten years ago! (Caveat: That is, in the outlying regions, where percentage rises of small numbers look bigger)

A record catch of 40,615 foreign criminals! (Caveat: Including visa violation, which inflate the total. By a third.)

The data has many more caveats, but let's have a look at one of the oddest.

If you stop everyone on the street, chances are you'll find more
crooks. Likewise, if you stop more foreigners, you'll find more foreign crooks. And the more foreign crooks you find, the more justification you'll have for cracking down and finding some more.

Repeat indefinitely -- the perfect way to justify the NPA's appropriately-titled "Policymaking Committee Against Internationalization" ("Kokusaika taisaku iinkai").

Now, thanks to the snitch site -- which deputizes even anonymous Internet xenophobes -- the police should see healthy rises in both statistics and budgets every year.

Furthermore, the emphasis on a rampant foreign crime wave which doesn't even exist, also helps to deflect attention away from the fact that crime clearance rates by the police are at record lows.

It seems the only way foreign crime will fall is when the foreign population stops rising, or when foreigners simply stop coming here. This is unlikely, however, since the Koizumi government wants to double foreign tourism to Japan by 2010.

Hopefully, none of these visitors will commit any crimes, or foreign-looking residents will have to endure even more police targeting.

In the meantime, the tax-paying public can presumably look forward to other official Web sites for ratting on your neighbors, dedicated to the likes of spousal and child abuse and motorcycle ganging.

After all, they would appear to be more of a concern than a zit on your neighbor's nose -- even if your neighbor is a foreigner.

(NB: This wasn't the ending I originally wrote... Ah well.)

Rat on your friends

Does your housemate wander around in his underwear? Or steal your milk? Does your colleague chat up your girlfriend during get-togethers? Or copy your lesson plans? Help us help the Immigration Bureau by telling us what they left off their list.

E-mail 3 items that you think should be included on the list to community@japantimes.co.jp. Ten respondents will each receive a 2,000 yen Tower Records voucher.

The Japan Times: March 30, 2004
(C) All rights reserved

(More information and articles in English and Japanese on the Immigration Snitch Site here)

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