Visitors to Japan to be fingerprinted

Mariko Sanchanta in Tokyo

Millions of visitors to Japan will be required to have their photographs and fingerprints taken from next month as part of new immigration procedures meant to help prevent terrorist attacks.

The move, which includes fingerprinting longtime permanent foreign residents, marks the first time a country other than the US has introduced such procedures. The US adopted similar measures following the September 11 attacks and the UK and European Union are considering introducing comparable requirements.

The new measures have been attacked by human rights groups, which have said the collection of biometric data could play into the hands of Japanese xenophobes and raises privacy issues.

“This will further the perception in Japan that foreigners are terrorists and at the same time rejects the idea that the Japanese could be terrorists as well,” said Makoto Teranaka, secretary-general of Amnesty International Japan. “In fact, all recent terrorist attacks have been conducted by the Japanese,” he said, pointing to the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

The new procedures are part of an amendment of Japan’s Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, which contains measures to prevent terrorism. The measures come into force on November 20. In certain instances, Japan will be able to share its biometric data with other governments.

The move has been criticised by many foreigners living in Japan, particularly as the government has said it wants to make Tokyo an international financial centre. It also coincides with the government’s long-running Visit Japan campaign, which aims to increase the number of foreign visitors. Last year, more than 8m people visited the country, up from 5.2m in 2001.

Though Japan invited public comments on the new measure, one could only do so in Japanese.

If a foreigner refuses to be fingerprinted and photographed, he or she will not be permitted to enter the country.

Certain individuals, including “special permanent residents” (which include longtime ethnic Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese and Brazilian-Japanese residents), people under 16 and diplomats will be exempted from the new procedures.