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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Diet passes bill to take foreigners' prints, pics


Staff writer

A bill requiring fingerprinting and photographing of foreigners upon entry to Japan was passed Wednesday as a way to prevent terrorism.

Despite strong criticism from the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and human rights organizations, the bill cleared the House of Councilors with a majority vote by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

With the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, an estimated 6 million to 7 million foreigners entering Japan every year will be obliged to have their fingerprints and photographs taken, along with other personal identification information.

The collected data will be electronically registered and cross-checked with a list of past deportees and internationally wanted criminals.

"By targeting only foreigners, the Immigration Bureau is encouraging discrimination against foreigners," said Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan. "(This law) is a violation of a person's right to privacy."

The measure exempts people under age 16, ethnic Koreans and other special permanent residents, those invited by the government and people entering Japan for diplomatic or official purposes.

Other than that, all foreigners will be targeted. For people already living here and regardless of having a permanent, work or spouse visa, all will be obliged to be fingerprinted and photographed when re-entering the country.

Teranaka pointed out that foreign spouses of Japanese will now be treated differently than their partners.

An official at the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau denied the new measure will encourage discrimination.

"We know that many of the foreigners are neither terrorists nor criminals," the official said. "But we want to ensure bad people will be removed."

The official added the revision will also be useful against people who overstay their visa or enter illegally.

"Out of the more than 50,000 foreigners deported yearly, more than 10 percent (are repeat immigration violators)," the official said, adding it is easy in some countries to get a new name and get a real passport -- and then enter Japan legally under a different identity.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement Monday expressing concern over the bill: "Even (if the law is) for antiterrorism purposes, human rights secured in accordance with the Constitution and the International Human Rights Law must be observed. Establishing a society that secures the human rights of minorities, including foreigners, is another important way to prevent terrorism and crime."

The immigration official argued that fingerprinting and photographing foreigners is within the permissible range.

"We are taking these measures out of necessity and rationality," he said. "If we were to collect (fingerprints) when it is not necessary, that would be unconstitutional. . . . We are doing this to protect everyone living in Japan, including foreigners, ensuring their lives and security."

Amnesty's Teranaka argued the legislation does not act as protection.

"The Immigration Bureau is using the word 'antiterrorism' to increase and strengthen control over foreigners in Japan," he said.



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