Japan Starts Fingerprinting, Photographing Foreign Travelers

Japan began taking fingerprints and photographs this week of foreign nationals aged 16 or older upon their entry at its 27 airports and 126 seaports nationwide under a revised immigration law as part of antiterrorism measures.

Japan became the second country after the United States to introduce the system that collects biometric data from foreign visitors amid lingering calls for a review by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and human right groups that claim the data could be made available for criminal investigations on an unlimited basis.

Entering foreign visitors must show their passports and submit entry cards before they are guided by immigration officials to have their facial pictures taken and index fingers scanned.

Many visitors expressed understanding of the measure's necessity for antiterrorism security but were displeased with the long waiting time.

At Narita airport near Tokyo, Lucy Chasse, 61, who arrived from Canada, said she thinks it is a violation of human rights while noting that it is inevitable for security.

A 26-year-old Australian man, who came to Kansai airport near Osaka from Bangkok, criticized it as an infringement on privacy, and Tom Herrying, 52, from Guam, said he believes it is a good system at least to detect passport forgery.

The revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law was enacted in May last year in a bid to block entry into Japan mainly of individuals designated as terrorists by the justice minister.

Under the law, scanned fingerprints and other biometric data will be stored in a computer to be instantly checked against those of past deportees, in addition to about 800,000-900,000 pieces of information relating to suspects wanted by the Japanese police and Interpol.

The measure excludes ethnic Koreans and other permanent residents with special status, those under 16, those visiting Japan for diplomatic or official purposes, and those invited by the Japanese government.

However, Choi Sung Shik of the Korean Residents Union in Japan said in a protest rally in front of Tokyo's Justice Ministry building Tuesday that many Korean permanent residents without special status will now be subjected to the measure.

Also joining the rally organized by Amnesty International-Japan and other human rights organizations, Choi Sun Ae, a third-generation Korean resident, also expressed strong concerns about the impact that the measure is likely to have on the Korean community in Japan.

Choi Sun Ae said she once refused to get fingerprinted and was accordingly stripped of her permanent status due to violation of an Alien Registration Law regulation, although she later regained it after the regulation was abolished in April 2000.

"Under the revised immigration law, Korean residents with general permanent statuses would face a similar situation to mine if they reject the fingerprinting," she said.

Also among some 50 protesters was Renate Tamamushi, 68, who has been married to a Japanese man and lived in Japan for 46 years. She voiced opposition to the fingerprinting, saying, "Japan is my second home country and I don't want to be treated like a terrorist."

A businessman from Canada said, "The measure may hurt our business. I am concerned about our customers as well as staff coming from abroad."

An automated gate was set up at Narita airport ahead of other airports for naturalized Japanese citizens and permanent residents with special status that allows them to leave and enter the country just by having their pre-registered fingerprints checked.

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