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Tuesday, June 13, 2006
THE ZEIT GIST
Fuss over fingerprinting
Community Page readers on Japan's new immigration law
The new law requiring foreigners to be fingerprinted and photographed at Japan's airports is unfair.
Why are permanent residents being fingerprinted again? I've been paying taxes in Japan for the past 22 years, but now, when I arrive back at Narita from a trip home, I must wait in a long line to be again fingerprinted.
In the past, being a permanent resident meant greater trust. Now it is merely a visa status. All "gaijin" are the same -- suspect. -- Robert
Danger from within
They should fingerprint everyone, including Japanese. Terrorism is usually committed by people in their own countries, like in Ireland, England and Japan. -- F., Japan
Honest need not fear
I see no problem with being fingerprinted on entry to Japan. It's not a big deal. Honest people have nothing to fear. -- Allan, Canada
I agree completely with Scott Hards. The people who are against the use of fingerprints or photographs say that they are being degraded. But this is a really subjective matter, while security is a very objective matter that is common to all of us.
Being Peruvian, I am used to being "degraded" all the time -- being stopped in train stations by Japanese policemen probably on account of the color of my skin alone.
In my opinion, those who are complaining are those who think that, because they are American or British or from a highly-developed country, they shouldn't be treated this way -- that is, the way that, for example, Nigerian or Malaysian people in this country regularly are. -- Luis, Tokyo
For this law to be acceptable, successful and to protect its citizens, native and foreigner alike, it has to be applicable to everyone residing here.
It is a sad reflection on this society that foreigners, for the most part, live here peacefully, abide by society's rules, pay taxes, health insurance and pension, teach children, volunteer etc. and yet we are to be subjected to this system as if we were under suspicion.
This law needed much more input from the foreign and Japanese community before being hurriedly passed. -- Diane, Japan
This new law assumes that terrorism is the preserve of foreigners. While a law like this may have prevented 9/11 style terrorism (though even this is debatable), will it really make us safer? It wouldn't have stopped the sarin gas attack, nor would it have stopped the Oklahoma city bombing in the U.S., two of the worst terrorist actions of the last 20 years.
All this law will do is further discriminate against foreigners in Japan. What next ? Why not just jail all foreigners to keep them in order? -- Matt, Tokyo
Those who cite the U.S. Visit program in defense of the Japanese government's decision to begin fingerprinting and photographing all foreigners upon entering the country ignore some important facts.
Though the U.S. law is also, in my opinion, wrongheaded, it at least exempts foreign residents from repeated indignity upon entering. Japan, on the other hand, has chosen to photograph and fingerprint even permanent residents, and to repeat this every time they go abroad and come back. This is truly inexplicable.
Even assuming fingerprinting is needed, why not just do it once when the "gaijin" card is obtained?
The community of foreigners in Japan is full of law-abiding, taxpaying professionals, many of whom speak Japanese and/or have married Japanese citizens, who love Japan and would like to build a family life here.
Yet we are depicted by the government first and foremost as potential terrorists and criminals. How can we be expected to feel with such constant affronts to our personal dignity? -- Glenn, Tokyo
A small price
I agree with Scott T. Hards that being fingerprinted is a small price to pay for the privilege of visiting or living and working in Japan. This is a dangerous world we now live in where psychotic fanatics are intent on murdering innocent civilians.
Every responsible government has the duty to protect its citizens. No responsible government can just give all foreigners the benefit of the doubt and allow them into the country. If fingerprinting will help in this task, I will gladly be fingerprinted when I re-enter Japan, just as my Japanese wife is fingerprinted every time we go to America. -- Stuart, Hokkaido
No safety guarantee
I welcome steps that make this safe country even safer. But I oppose the government's move to fingerprint and photograph every foreigner at immigration, except for "special permanent residence" holders, because collecting biometric data from foreigners will not make Japan safer.
For example, why exempt special permanent residents? A Korean or Chinese national born in Japan is not a terrorist suspect, but a decade-long Swiss or Swedish permanent resident is?
And can all people be correctly identified by fingerprints? According to the FBI, computer based screening identifies only 99.97 percent of fingerprints correctly. That sounds like a pretty high rate of accuracy, but with 7 million foreigners annually entering Japan, we can estimate that more than 2,000 foreigners will not be identified correctly.
Will the wrongly identified be sent back to their country of origin, or to a country that has a warrant for the real terrorist? Or will they be given a second chance for a human expert to check their biometrics? Will that take an hour, a day, a week?
Terrorist threats should not be used as an excuse to unreasonably heighten control over any aspect of a country's population. The dangers of human rights violations far outweigh the slight chances of catching a terrorist at immigration. -- Olaf, Japan
What's the problem?
I agree with Scott Hards. I really don't see what the problem is. I don't think having your fingerprints taken is a violation of rights. How can it be? It is merely an accurate way of identifying a person.
We all marvel at technology that requires fingerprints to activate things, don't we? Why do we cry foul when it is used for security? Are people rebelling against governments just to be angry about something yet again? It is only a matter of time before fingerprints are the only way we can access funds, accounts, travel etc. because of crime. Laws are only created because of crime and exploitation. -- Brad
Fingerprinting visitors and foreigners will only make people uneasy about visiting Japan, and those that live in the country will resent the government for "targeting" them.
And what will happen to those of Japanese descent in Brazil when the Brazilian government retaliates by fingerprinting Japanese only as they are now doing with the Americans? Clearly, this is not the way we want the world to go.
Start it now
Fingerprinting is a very good tool to identify a person accurately. This being the case, it should start immediately for public security.
People will be afraid to commit crimes as it will be easier for police to catch them. -- Saman
I am coming to Japan in October and if I have to have to have my fingerprints taken when I enter the country then so be it.
I think this is an excellent idea to deter crime, especially terrorism. I do not have any problem with giving my fingerprints to help keep society safe for all. I wish that more countries would adopt this type of program. Anyone who goes to another country and refuses to participate is probably someone you don't want in the country anyway. -- Dean
Worse to come?
Fingerprinting and photographing foreigners will not make anyone safer; the British government has already begrudgingly admitted that. And the new law has very little to do with protecting Japan from the nebulous threat of terrorism.
My main concern with the new law is not so much that it targets foreigners. Rather, I see this law as a test case for a future national ID register for all residents of Japan.
This would produce an enormous database on each person, bring about the presumption of guilt until proven otherwise and confirm to the government that citizens are accountable to it, not the other way around. -- J.S., Osaka
Although I think the law is futile and will not do anything to prevent terrorism, Japan has a right to enforce any law it likes, no matter how pointless or xenophobic it may be. Tourists, likewise, have a choice to visit or not visit as they see fit.
What bothers me is that people who have working visas or permanent residency, who have lived here for years, paid taxes, and who may have married and are bringing up children, will be treated as potential terrorists. What does that say about how Japan views its foreign community? -- David, Japan
I will be traveling to Japan this year and the idea of being fingerprinted does not bother me or even seem out of place. It is in the best interests of every country that it has as much information as possible about visitors. -- A., U.S.
Law won't work
As far as I can see, the new law is an excuse for the government to keep an eye on foreigners. They are using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to implement such a law.
But collecting people's fingerprints is a direct violation of human rights. The government is basically saying that all foreigners are potential criminals unless proven otherwise.
I have lived in Japan for 7 years now, have a Japanese wife and daughter and am very happy here. I intend to continue living here. But why am I being treated like a criminal? -- Michael B
Good example Malaysia welcomes all tourists. No visa in advance is necessary; you just show up at a port of entry and you are welcome to enter if you meet legal requirements. Nevertheless, Malaysians have to apply for a visa to enter the U.S. and it is not that easily obtainable. In addition, there is a $100 fee, while Malaysia charges not one ringgit.
I have visited Japan 20 times in the past 21 years and am beginning to rethink my travel plans. Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia all welcome tourists without treating them like advance criminals. Maybe its time for a tourist boycott of the land of the rising sun. -- Andrew, San Francisco
The idea of taking a fingerprint to prevent terrorismism or decrease the number of crimes committed in Japan is an absurd proposition. This new scheme will simply fuel the paranoia of normal Japanese people and the level of distrust that they have toward foreigners. Is fingerprinting the solution to the increasing wave of criminality in Japan? Is fingerprinting the best way to prevent terrorism? I don't think so.
Presumed innocent unless proven guilty is a basis of most law, but I think the Japanese government has gone too far by branding foreigners as presumed guilty unless proven innocent. -- A.Y., Japan
I visited Tokyo for 10 days in April and I hope to visit again. Sadly, as an American, I have to agree that Japanese might reasonably view foreigners collectively as more likely to commit crimes, judging from crime statistics in Japan versus crime statistics in most other countries.
Also, admittance to a foreign country is a privilege traditionally conditioned upon what would be an invasion of privacy in one's home country. For example, upon entering a foreign country most people are asked the purpose of their visit. My own state government demanded my fingerprints when I applied to take the bar exam. I can hardly feel outraged if Japan wants to scan my fingerprints upon entering the country. Also, fingerprinting upon entry should deter wanted criminals from coming to Japan using phony passports. -- Jonathan, Las Vegas
I have been a visitor to and resident of Japan for the last 26 years. I am married with a family and have permanent residence. I view this new law with dismay and disdain.
The new fingerprinting law is just another xenophobic reaction to the increasing numbers of non-Japanese entering Japan by a group of prejudiced, narrow-minded people in government. Instead of moving forward with the internationalization of Japan, Japan is taking a step back. Japan has been painfully slow in enacting antidiscrimination laws and the new law will only help to intensify discrimination of non-Japanese living in Japan.
It is obvious the new law was not applied to Koreans living in Japan or Japanese nationals because there would have been serious opposition to it. By exempting them the government was able to pass the law with little opposition.
I am interested to know, though, what will happen if people refuse to be fingerprinted? Will they be sent home?
Waste of time, money
We seem to think that incoming terrorists will be known to authorities. That is not the case. Most known terrorists know better than to step out the door.
The people intent on attacking Japan are already here in the form of university students and the like. Or they are beginners at their trade, but well-trained. They could pass the most minute inspection, anywhere in the world. We seem to assume that they are ignorant.
All in all, the policy will be a waste of time and money. -- Bob, Hiroshima
Japan appears to have created this scheme to make a highly visible, minimally effective and token attempt at keeping terrorists out.
Being British, I am not in a particularly authoritative position to comment, but I have seen or read nothing that suggests Japan is under particular threat of terrorism on home soil. The justification for this legislation seems tenuous at best. -- Josh, U.K.
I don't think the fingerprinting in itself is a bad thing. Personally, I think people look at the way Japan has traditionally treated non-Japanese people and then take it in that context. Have it ever been a welcoming, foreigner-friendly country? -- Brian
In his conclusion, Scott T Hards observes: "A government's primary responsibility is to protect its citizens. Fingerprinting all foreign travelers will help do that . . ."
Really? As Matt Dioguardi points out in his piece, the worst crimes and atrocities committed here in Japan are by the Japanese themselves. If the Japanese government really wanted to make this fingerprinting idea as water tight as possible, then everybody coming into Japan should be fingerprinted, Japanese nationals included.
Japanese officials feel that they have to be seen to be doing something in this ongoing "war on terror." What gets me is the sad inevitability of it all. Once the idea was floated, politically, it's almost impossible to vote it down. -- Peter
Having a fingerprint law for foreigners in Japan is a great idea. It will help the rest of the world see the racist, xenophobic mentality of the majority of Japanese. You know, the ones that deny WWII atrocities, rewrite history, and write racist laws. -- P., U.S.
Fingerprinting is acceptable providing it is done to every person, regardless of nationality. It cannot be done selectively. It is however unlikely to have any effect at all on reducing/stopping terrorism. -- Paul
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