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Japan to Start Fingerprinting Foreign Travelers 520

rabiddeity writes "If you're planning to visit Japan sometime in the near future, you should be aware of the welcome you'll get. Last year, Japan's parliament passed a measure requiring foreigners to submit their fingerprints when entering the country. The measures, which apply to all foreigners over 16 regardless of visa status, take effect tomorrow. The worst part: the fingerprints are stored in a national database for an "unspecified time", and will be made available to both domestic police and foreign governments."
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Japan to Start Fingerprinting Foreign Travelers

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  • Shared? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @12:51AM (#21403611)
    So the Japanese fingerprint the Americans entering there and the US fingerprints the Japanese coming here, and then sharing is permitted. So in reality each government is getting access to its citizens fingerprints without violating any privacy laws.

    Am I supposed to just accept that this violation-by-proxy is legal?

    • Am I supposed to just accept that this violation-by-proxy is legal?
      Yes. This sort of thing (including communications interception) has been going on for decades between many countries.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dbIII ( 701233 )
      "Legal" does not matter as soon as the "terror" word is used. At that point you don't even have the benefit of professional law enforcement and instead deal with untrained guys that want to be James Bond loosely supervised by horse judges.
    • Re:Shared? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @06:47AM (#21405541)

      Am I supposed to just accept that this violation-by-proxy is legal?

      When I was in the Finnish Army, one of our instructors said (bad translation): "Group punishment (that is, punishing the whole group when you can't figure out who's the real culprit) is forbidden, but there are ways around that."

      That was a moment of epiphany for me, the moment when I stopped respecting the law and the authority behind it. It was an insignificant incident in itself, but it certainly drove home that the authority is not my friend, but rather a mass of corruption, and should be avoided whenever possible in any of its forms. It was also the moment when whatever lingering remains of nationalism still existed in my heart died out for good. For all that I owe a debt of gratitude I can never repay to that instructor.

      So, don't hate your overlords, but learn from them. They want to get your fingerprints ? Forge them.

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @12:53AM (#21403631)
    Did you know that you leave fingerprints on everything you touch? Anyone can track you anywhere you go!!! All they have to do is "lift" the prints off the surface. It's a privacy nightmare.

    • by biocute ( 936687 )
      I use knuckles to push buttons, or at least twist my thumb after pushing a button.
      • by Storlek ( 860226 )
        They can still get your prints after you've twisted your thumb. Also, I suppose you typed that post with your knuckles. Oh, and I bet you never touch your car keys, check your mailbox, open the front door, or take out the trash.
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @12:53AM (#21403637)
    Could it be? [] [] []

    Yes, apparently it could. Japan isn't the first by a long shot.
  • by stox ( 131684 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @12:54AM (#21403641) Homepage
    Only the guilty need worry.

    And while I am at it, can I interest you in some Florida Condominiums?
  • by NimbleSquirrel ( 587564 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @12:59AM (#21403685)
    How exactly is this different to what the US does to foreign visitors?

    When the US started to fingerprint foreign travellers, a whole bunch of countries threatened to do that to visting US citizens. It is nice to see Japan follow through with their threat, albeit a few years later (although they are not just focussing on US citizens). I can see a bunch of Americans getting really upset about this and declaring they'll never travel to Japan, but what the Japanese Government are doing is really no different than what the US Government is doing to everyone else.

    Personally I don't like being treated as a criminal. However, as much as I could complain about it, it won't be stopping me from travelling.

    • by dancingmad ( 128588 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @01:10AM (#21403765)
      Yeah, Americans get high and mighty about these stories, but I am an American citizen (but of South Asian descent) and traveling between the U.S. and Japan with my American passport I have been treated pretty well up until now in Japanese airports (my parents on the other hand, who are not American citizens, got questioned pretty thorougly leaving Japan after visiting me, but my American passport-ed brother flew by), whereas I get grilled in the U.S. It sucks to be stuck in the crossfire, and I am sad that this place I love living is becoming more like the U.S., but the Americans started this stupid airport mess. And it's still better than always getting selected for "random" screening and taking off my shoes.
    • Well, everyone is used to the US being a Jackass to the international community, but Japan is supposed to be so polite.
  • by ashitaka ( 27544 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @01:01AM (#21403703) Homepage
    I have permanent resident status in Japan. This is the equivalent of a landed immigrant in most countries, however it is more permanent as you essentially have it for the rest of your life unless you become a Japanese citizen or leave Japan without a re-entry permit. This status takes a very long time to get (5-10 years) and requires you to submit tons of personal information and have Japanese guarantors. One of the benefits has been that you can line up at the Japanese citizens counters at airport immigration and be through very quickly. (My record: plane to train in under 5 minutes)

    Despite this, from this Tuesday I will be required to line up with the regular foreign tourists and have my picture and fingerprints taken every time I enter Japan and every time I *leave* Japan.

    Also, I still have to make sure I have a re-entry permit which I have to get every 3 years or I will lose my status completely.

    All of this because I *might* be a terrorist or criminal.

    The one thing I wonder is, if I pass away during a trip abroad are they going to take my picture and fingerprints when they bring my body back to the nice gravesite in rural Gumma prefecture where I'm going to be buried when I die?
    • by havill ( 134403 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:07AM (#21404117)
      Hi, I live in Japan too. Some comments on your post, which didn't contain anything false but it did contain a few exaggerations:

      1) You don't have to be a permanent resident to go through the "Japanese" line at Immigration. All you need is a re-entry permit. A person on a 3-month Entertainer visa can go through the JP Citizen line if they have a re-entry permit.

      2) It doesn't necessarily take five to ten years to get permanent residency. The path that most permanent residents take is to marry a Japanese. In that case, 3 years of being married to a Japanese (with one year of that residing in Japan). To compare, in 2000 the U.S. required two years of marriage (but no residency requirement) for my Japanese spouse to receive permanent residency. Easier, but not that different.

      3) You don't know that you will be required to line up with regular foreigners in the immigration line to get fingerprinted.

      4) Lining up in the Japanese line is not always faster. Depending on the flights coming in, the Alien/Foreigner lines are sometimes faster and/or smaller. The big benefits you get from permanent residency is a) not needing a visa or a reason (job or spouse) to be in Japan and b) (making it easier to) qualify for home/business loans and consumer credit.

      5) The re-entry permit length for permanent residency is not always three years. It lasts until you have to renew your permanent residency status. Usually five years. In comparison, a permanent resident of the U.S. (may) lose their status if they're out of the U.S. for more than a year, unless they can prove a residual tie or they have a re-entry permit. The U.S. re-entry permit lasts only two years. And it's much more expensive (>$150 for one-time use max 2 year US re-entry permit vs ¥3000 for a JP one-timer or ¥6000 for multiple-use permit).

      One last thing: you obviously haven't lived in Japan for a very long time, as the non-fingerprinting of foreigners is a new post Y2K phenomenon. Granted, in the past it was done at the Ward Office and put on your Alien Registration Card.

      To compare, as an American citizen, I've been fingerprinted for all sorts of jobs: working as a substitute public teacher during college and working at an investment bank. Many Americans whose jobs deal with law enforcement, children, or handling large amounts of money are required to submit to fingerprinting (and often drug tests).

      * Also: UNDER FIVE minutes from plane to train? C'mon, even without a single human obstacle in your way, that's at least a sprint/race-walk pace from the jetway and down a lot of hallways and escalators to either the Keisei line or the JR line.
      • by ashitaka ( 27544 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @04:46AM (#21405021) Homepage
        Comments on your comments:

        1. I didn't say that others with different visas couldn't do this as well. As you say anyone with a re-entry permit can, but then you have to explain the re-entry permit system to everyone. The only real point is that a special ability that you were granted as a resident of Japan is now being taken away and the value of your status in Japan has been reduced to nil as far as airport immigration is concerned. You, me and those lovely Filipino "entertainers" will have to shift over to the visitor counters.

        2. Get real. That four years is a theoretical minimum that almost never applies in practice. It took me 5 years and I was married to a Japanese and already had one kid. My friends have all taken MUCH longer. The requirements to get a Permanent Residence have also become MUCH stricter as of late.

        3. Yes I do. There has been a LOT of discussion about this on, and Although current residents have spotted the camera and fingerprint machines at the Japanese passport counters they has been no guarantee that they will be used there unless there is an overflow of foreign tourists. We'll see in a couple of days when the lines at immigration stretch back to the planes.

        4. That's obvious, You'll always pick the the shorter lines but every single time I've entered over the past 10 years the Japanese lines have always been shorter. In any case I've never found the visitor counters faster. if you're heading over to the Japanese counters they can assume you already are legit.

        5. This is confusing. You don't renew a permanent resident permit. The maximum length of a re-entry permit is 3 years for regular visa holders and permanent residents. There is a 5-year re-entry permit that can only be obtained by Special Permanent Residents (The resident Koreans for the most part). The validity of a multiple re-entry permit can usually only be affected by the expiry of your Alien Registration Card or passport.

        Your last two points made me chuckle. I have already been fingerprinted by the Ward office. I started living permanently in Japan in 1986. The advancement we permanent residents were able to achieve by the removal of the fingerprinting requirement is now being taken away. The most important point to remember is that Japanese are NEVER fingerprinted unless they have been found guilty of a crime. I don't know for certain that Japanese applying for high-security positions aren't fingerprinted but knowing the cultural stigma associated with it, I think it unlikely. The usual excuse is that the Japanese have koseki so they don't need that form of identification.

        And finally, yes, it is possible and I time myself to try and set a new record but that will no longer be possible. A sub 5-minute transition requires it just being myself with only a backpack at a brisk jog from the jetway without having to take the shuttle at terminal 2. No-one lined up at the Japanese and re-entrant's immigration counters with a friendly young male officer who tend to want to get rid of you quicker then a run down the escalators and use the same young male officer trick at customs walking up to him with passport open at the eijukyouka page and saying "Konnichiwa, eijusha desu kedo, kyou shucho kara kaetekimashita. That gets me through without them even opening my pack. Then it's just another little sprint down to the Skyliner ticket counter.
    • Previously, you could go through at the Japanese citizen's counter on any status of residence provided your residence was in Japan and you had your foreigner registration card with you (i.e. not your first trip through, but presumably all your subsequent trips through unless your residency lapsed). I've done it on, let's see, International Relations (kokusai gyoumu, what the heck was that called again?), Engineer, and Cultural Activities visas before.

      Ahh well. At worst, this is a minor nuisance which we'l
  • Thanks to the US (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @01:03AM (#21403719)
    The Japanese are not known to waste time and resources on what I'd call useless ventures, but this thumb print routine appears to be right from my president and the Neocon's cook book.

    Very soon, they will realize that taking thumb prints has no effect at deterring a man ready to "meet his God" or "getting rewarded with 70 virgins", just like the we did.

    Trouble is, it will become quite apparent very late in time. Thanks to the US.

    • by ashitaka ( 27544 )
      This isn't thumb. It's left and right index fingers.
    • LOL,

      The Japanese are known for wasting both time and money on useless ventures. It is almost a Halmark of being Japanese!

      Hmmmm where shall we start.... [] [] []

      This Fingerprinting and photographing are not designed to prevent terrorism. Terrorism in Japan has been traditionally conducted by groups that are exempt from the fingerpritning process.

      This is being done specifica
      • This is being done specifically to track foreigners, especially the foreigners who live here. Some of it is being done to prevent illegal immigration.

        So Japan needs to track foreigners, and one of the best way of doing this is by finger printing? I agree with you to some extent, but only if every employer will play along with the government.

        But I doubt this will ever be the case because even in these United States, a country governed and ruled by laws, it simply does not work all the time.

        For Japan, I'd like you to take a stroll in its [private] car junk yards. The folks at some of these yards do not give a damn about the government and its policies.

        • Re:Thanks to the US (Score:5, Informative)

          by CB-in-Tokyo ( 692617 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:00AM (#21404077) Homepage
          I am strongly against this process.

          Japan used to fingerprint all foreigners when they had to get their "gaijin cards". This was fought and overturned in 1999. Now Japan is playing the "terror" card to once again fingerprint foreigners. This is why the foreigners who live here are not exempt.

          A few years back Japan tried to implement a program fingerprinting all of Japan's Citizens. There was a public outcry and the plan was scrapped, but foreigners are foreigners and fair game.

          There are many things I love about Japan, but this is simply a waste of time and money.

          Oh, here is a nice promotional video Japan has kindly put together for us stupid foreign people.


          You can easily see their perception of foreigners as slightly retarded, happy, future criminals by the way we are portrayed in this video.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Oswald ( 235719 )
            I'm speechless.

            That video is so insulting and so amateurish that it's hard to believe it ever saw the light of day. The really ironic part is that the Ministry of Justice (see, I watched all the way to the end) could have easily--and for a small amount of money--have gotten an American PR firm to create an infomercial so good that people throughout the western would would have paid to rent it. Because we gaijin really are slightly retarded--and now we know that we're not the only ones.

  • by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @01:07AM (#21403741) Homepage
    America has been doing this to citizens of every single country except Canada for many years now. Even up here in Canada we figure it's only a matter of time.
  • Balance of Power (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcelrath ( 8027 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @01:09AM (#21403755) Homepage

    Each new power given to the government must be balanced by a power of the citizenry. Else, this is just another step on the path to a facist state.

    These new powers of surveillance and databases that we're giving our governments are vast. Never before in history has a country been able to monitor the movements and transactions of everyone, with so much precision. I know of no balancing power that has been given to the citizens in countries such as the US, UK, and now Japan, to check that the government is not abusing these powers. And the citizenry certainly does not have the equivalent power of knowing the private travel habits of their officials.

    The fact of the matter is that these kinds of powers are far more useful for tracking law-abiding citizens than catching criminals. You don't catch criminals by identifying all the non-criminals. The database of non-criminals is totally useless, since any truly nefarious characters will avoid it, and not end up in your database at all. These kinds of things are often justified on the basis of preventing petty crime. But, this is far too large a power to give the government to reduce petty crime. Petty crime will never hit zero.

    Instead, these new kinds of powers have far more use in tracking political enemies and corporate espionage. For instance just before the next G8 summit you can bet there will be new names on the no-fly lists. Before a major political debate, the challenging candidate will be denied travel. Governments will be able to determine when competing corporations are traveling for a meeting, and deny entry to those people. For people who are not political dissidents or corporate higher-ups, the only possible consequence besides deterioration of our democratic systems is that we will end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and be accused of committing a crime. The dragnet will have found us. And the evidence will be ironclad. Because, fingerprints are never wrong, are they?

    I need a succinct way to explain these issues. The fact of the matter these arguments always come down to the brain-dead simple arguments that are difficult to refute: a) This will help catch <latest bogeyman>; and b) I'm not a <latest bogeyman> so why should I care? I need a one-sentence refutation to these arguments to give the people that don't think very hard about it. Obviously those interested in preserving freedom such as myself are not winning this argument. Anyone want to suggest one in the comments?


  • Perfect timing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UfoZ ( 680310 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @01:09AM (#21403759) Homepage
    ...for all of us gaijins going home for the holidays! Needless to say, I'm not pleased.

    Bonus points for this idiot minister [] using a bullshit "a friend of a friend is in Al Quaeda, therefore all foreigners are dangerous" claim to justify this crap.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dancingmad ( 128588 )
      Mod parent up. This unabashedly stupid story about a friend of a friend in al Qaeda has been used to push this useless legislation through. It's sickening and the scare tactics used are as bad as America's. I hate Japanese politics but the al Qaeda story is a new level of stupidity to me. There were some people questioning it, but it got the job done.
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
      Bonus points for this idiot minister using a bullshit "a friend of a friend is in Al Quaeda, therefore all foreigners are dangerous" claim to justify this crap.

            America did it first.
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @01:23AM (#21403865)
    ... will look like 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirls since the authorities will be too busy checking out their panties to suspect them.
  • Japan seems to have an obsession with foreigners as criminals. This despite (what I've heard) a rather obvious all-Japanese organized criminal underworld. Apparently, it's still possible in Japan to see business establishments that blatantly refuse to cater to foreigners. Sod 'em. I don't want to go badly enough that I'd subject myself to that mess.
  • by MochaMan ( 30021 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @01:58AM (#21404069) Homepage
    I'm a foreign resident of Japan, and this policy is invasive enough that after years here as a tax-paying resident with a Japanese spouse and child, we are thinking of packing our things and moving back to Canada.

    First off, I'd encourage everyone who opposes this policy to register their views with this online petition [].

    I would also encourage you to write a letter to the Ministry of Justice at:

    General Affairs Division, Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Justice

    1-1-1 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku,
    Tokyo, 100-8977, Japan
    Tel: +81 (0)3-3580-4111
    URL: []

    Also, send a copy to the Japanese National Tourist Organization, making clear the impact on tourism, at their Japanese headquarters and your regional office listed at the URL below:

    Japan National Tourist Organization
    10th Floor, Tokyo Kotsu Kaikan Building, 2-10-1 Yurakucho,
    Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-0006, Japan
    Tel: +81 (0)3-3201-3331
    URL: []

    Not only is this policy an invasion of privacy, but also discriminatory in its application. Of the major terrorist incidents in Japan, none has been committed by a foreigner -- 1995 Tokyo Sarin Gas attacks, bombing of government office buildings in Hokkaido in the 70s, assassination of the Mayor of Nagasaki... all perpetrated by Japanese nationals.

    Further, fingerprinting is dubious at best in preventing terrorist attacks. A terrorist organization capable of a serious attack on Japan is capable of entering the country without passing through immigration. From the point of view of politics, however, fingerprinting foreigners is an easy way to make it appear as though you're getting tough on terrorism and foreign crime.

    Lastly, The Japanese government has produced an introductory video [] on the new scheme that you really have to see to believe. As the guy in the video says "I'll pass it on to all my friends". I get the feeling this won't have the effect the Japanese government intends it to have.

    They've also put out a PDF version [] of the poster for this program.
    • by JimBobJoe ( 2758 ) <> on Monday November 19, 2007 @04:25AM (#21404889)
      It so happens that Tokyo and Chicago are vying to be considered for the Summer Olympics in 2016. I would like to put together a campaign (from a variety of people, civil liberty/privacy groups, etc) to ask that the International Olympic Committee reject any host city application whose nation requires photographing/fingerprinting as a condition of entry. Such a condition violates the human dignity principle of the IOC charter, as well as potentially surpressing visitors to that host nation (since many believe that the dropoff in visitors [] to the US is related to US-VISIT.
  • by toby ( 759 ) * on Monday November 19, 2007 @02:19AM (#21404187) Homepage Journal
    Travellers to the US have been fingerprinted for some time - not to mention all the other indignities they endure. Reciprocity is a bitch, isn't it.
  • by John Jamieson ( 890438 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @03:03AM (#21404447)
    As some AC posted, I went with my family to Disney World last week, and they had finger print scanners. Needless to say I refused, and the lady said "what are you afraid of, unless you have something to hide". I reamed her a bit for insinuating that I might have something to hide.
    Then she started with the bogus line "It is not a fingerprint, it is a biometric. All it does is measure the width and length of your finger".
    When I still refused, and asked for my parking and admission back, at that point they let my family in quite quickly. Lesson? keep fighting!

    THE BIG QUESTION... Where does disney store these, how long, and given the cozy relationship between Disney and the US government - how many of us believe they will not end up in the hands of the government?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ron Bennett ( 14590 )
      No arguing necessary - Disney has a policy to allow people who object to using the finger scanner to show a government issued photo ID instead.

      While cast members working the gates should be aware of this policy, it's downplayed; it's all about getting people in as efficiently as possible while maintaining control over tickets (shared tickets / fraud was a huge problem before), which is the driving force behind having such scanners.

      Personally, I have no problem with the finger scan - it's fast and much easie
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by michaelhood ( 667393 )
      Exact same experience for me at Sea World in San Diego. I refused and was told that it doesn't take a print, just measures the length and width of my finger. They "allowed" me to show ID, instead.
  • by Attila the Bun ( 952109 ) on Monday November 19, 2007 @07:42AM (#21405819)
    Isn't it rather easy to provide fake fingerprints? Using their kitchen-sink laboratory, the Mythbusters created false prints which were good enough to fool the most expensive fingerprint door locks. Are the scanners at airports any more sophisticated?
  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <> on Monday November 19, 2007 @07:43AM (#21405821) Homepage Journal
    Here is the content of an email a friend forwarded to me, originally sent from the European Business Council in Japan to Europeans doing business in Japan. After the clipped email is the content of the MS Word attachment describing a new quick pass gate system, which it seems they got from the Japanese government.

    I lost my first post which included this and a small rant. Whatever. I am quite unhappy about this, and it seems to reverse the direction they were going, but the U.S. remains the king of security theater and it is an easy political win I suppose. They already got my photo and fingerprint from my passport and old foreigner card but I know I'm going to hate this. If it is in fact required.

    Forwarded Email:


    Further to my message on new immigration procedures last week, this is to
    inform you that Ministry of Justice has now issued instructions in English
    on how to undergo pre-registration for the new semi automatic gate system to
    be established at Narita Airport on November 20.
    Please find attached the instruction document, which should be available
    soon on the MoJ website.


    [For Foreigners]

    (Reference Material for the PR Dept.)

    Operation of the Automated Gate

    Ministry of Justice, Immigration Bureau

    1. Introduction

    Automated gates will be placed at Narita Airport from November 20th, 2007, in order to improve convenience of immigration procedures by simplifying and accelerating them. We would like to ask foreigners who wish to use the automated gates to provide their personal identification information (fingerprints and a facial portrait) in advance and register themselves as applicants in order to use the gate.

    2. Registration as an Applicant to Use the Automated Gate
    1. Required Items for Registration
    1. Valid passport (including Re-entry Permit) and re-entry permission
    2. Application form to use the automated gate
    2. Where and When to Register
    We will be accepting applications from November 20th at the locations stated below:
    1. Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau
    Application Counter for re-entry permission (2F) 9:00-16:00 (Except Saturdays, Sundays, National Holidays and December 29th to January 3rd)
    2. Narita Airport District Immigration Office
    The departure inspection area at South Wing of Passenger Terminal 1: 9:00-17:00
    The departure inspection area at the South Exit of Passenger Terminal 2: 9:00-17:00
    3. Registration Procedures

    Submit your application form with your passport and provide fingerprints of both index fingers and a facial portrait.

    Then, when the official affixes a registration stamp on your passport, the registration procedure is complete. In principle, you can use the gate from that day forward.

    4. Points of Concern for the Registration
    1. Time Limit of Registration

    You can register until the expiration date of your passport or the expiration date of your re-entry permit, whichever comes earlier.

    2. Registration Restrictions

    In some cases, such as when you cannot provide fingerprints, you may not be able to register.

    3. Using and Providing the Registered Information

    We will manage information including fingerprints and facial portraits provided at the registration as personal information set forth in laws on protection of personal informati

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain