Fingerprinting of foreign arrivals starts
(Asahi.com) Fingerprinting and photographing of foreigners started today at 126 ports and 27 airports in Japan amid criticism the anti-terrorism system will be ineffective, violate human rights and be exploited for ulterior purposes.
The procedure, which will affect up to 7 million of the 8 million people who enter Japan a year, is part of the government’s anti-terrorism measures under the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law compiled after the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001.
Although procedures for entering a country have tightened around the world, only Japan and the United States subject almost every foreigner to fingerprinting at the port of entry.
The new system requires nearly all foreigners aged 16 or older to be photographed for mug shots and be fingerprinted on both index fingers.
The information will be sent to the Justice Ministry’s host computer and checked against a blacklist based on data from the ministry, Interpol and other organizations.
If the information matches that of a suspected terrorist or if other irregularities are found, the individual will be taken to a separate room and questioned by special immigration officials. The person can be ordered to leave the country or have his or her information relayed to police if problems are found.
Diplomats, permanent residents with special status, such as Koreans born and living in Japan, and a few others are exempted from the system.
The ministry says the system is necessary in light of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States.
“This (revised) law would not have passed if it hadn’t been for the 9/11 attacks,” a senior ministry official said.
The revision was passed in the regular Diet session last year amid concerns that Japan, which has supported the U.S.-led anti-terrorism wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, could come under attack.
“We cannot waste time when al-Qaida is targeting Japan,” Taro Kono, then a senior vice justice minister, said at the time.
National Police Agency officials said the new system could have caught a senior al-Qaida member who repeatedly entered Japan. The man used a passport in another person’s name to enter and leave Japan six times over four years until he was caught in Germany in 2003.
But some remain skeptical about the effectiveness of the system in preventing terrorists from entering the country.
Yoichiro Mizukami, former director of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, noted that Japan has little fingerprint data of international terrorists, and doubts the information collected at ports of entry can be checked effectively.
“The priority should be on (Japan) improving capabilities to collect information on its own,” he said.
Some critics say the Justice Ministry is more concerned about using the 3.6-billion-yen special system to reduce the number of foreigners who overstay their visas.
“What’s the point of spending enormous sums to catch overstaying foreigners?” said Masashi Ichikawa, a lawyer with at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations who handles cases of illegal foreigners. “It is impermissible to implement a system in the name of anti-terror measures without proving its need.”
Information collected at ports of entry will be entered in a database for later use. Concerns have been raised that authorities could abuse the information under the government’s plan to tighten control over foreigners in the country.
About 7,000 foreigners who had been deported return to Japan every year using identification papers of others. The so-called repeaters accounted for about 13 percent of foreigners deported in 2006, according to the ministry.
In Japan, people are not fingerprinted against their will unless they are processed as part of a criminal case.
Groups have said the new fingerprinting system portrays all foreigners as potential terrorists, which could result in discrimination against innocent people.
The exemption of Korean and other special permanent residents in Japan from the system is based on their long fight against an old fingerprinting system.
All foreign residents were fingerprinted for alien registration until 2000, when the system was abolished in the face of strong protests, especially from Koreans who were born and raised in Japan and whose forefathers were brought to Japan from the Korean Peninsula for wartime forced labor.
“I’m disappointed that fingerprinting is to resume after only seven years,” said Choi Song Sik, son of the late pastor Choi Chang Hwa, who started a movement protesting the fingerprinting system.(IHT/Asahi: November 20,2007)
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