Friday, November 23, 2007

Silly, silly, silly

There is a new law in Japan, which started last week. All foreigners who enter Japan have to be fingerprinted as they go through Immigration. Debate is raging about whether or not this is a good idea. Most of the people I know think it is a Very Bad Idea.

I have to say I agree with them, for several reasons. One is that although in principle this should be a way to keep track of potential terrorists, this is Japan, and my experience with bureaucracies here does not give me confidence that it will do anything of the kind. They are more likely to mix up their records and arrest somebody's visiting grandmother. Either that, or they'll lose the records altogether. They're good at that.

The second reason I doubt this will be effective is that any terrorist who really wants to come into Japan will find a way around this law. I know this personally. My own brother (who is, as far as I know, not a terrorist) once came into Japan with no visa at all. I will not tell you how he managed it, but I can tell you that it was as easy as pie. Also, he was wined and dined in lavish style by some shady people and had a very nice evening, thank you very much. If the fingerprinting law had been in place at that time, and he had wanted to blow up the Diet buildings, he could have left his fingerprints all over the place. They would not be in the database. He did not go through Immigration. Officially he was never here at all.

The third reason is that the only terrorist attacks so far in Japan have been committed by Japanese people, to whom this law does not apply. And here's something to give pause for thought. As I was hunting for a suitable link on the Aum subway gassings, look what I found:

Aum Shinri Kyo's use of related companies and its role as a subcontractor made it almost impossible for ministries and organizations to be aware that they were buying computer systems from the cult, computer experts said. In the years following the subway nerve gas attack, the cult, now called ``Aleph,'' has designed software for various government agencies and ministries. It developed a software system for Japan's Defense Agency that would manage classified communications. (Bold added.)

That report goes on to say that The government recently ordered ministries to stop using software developed by companies associated with the cult, but remember, this is JAPAN. The ministries are BUREAUCRACIES.

There is also the problem of what happens to the data, which I will not go into here because it's too big a topic for me. That is discussed here, if you're interested.

The final reason that I am not in favour of this new law is that it also targets permanent residents. Quite aside from the fact that this means that people who have been here for a large part or even all of their lives are going to be treated as 'foreigners' and potential terrorists (we're used to that, not that that makes discrimination any nicer), this is going to be very annoying for me personally, because it means that when The Man and I come back from overseas we will have to go through different lines at Immigration, and he will have to wait for me to go through the whole process. (You can pre-register your fingerprint to speed things up, but only at Narita airport, which we never use.) The way it used to be we went through the same line together. It was relatively fast and hassle-free.

This is, of course, a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but I feel for those of my colleagues who have children. Since the law does not apply to children under sixteen or to Japanese nationals, this means that when they travel with their children, the children will go through one line and their parents through another. One of my colleagues is particularly anxious about this. She sometimes takes her kids to visit their grandparents in Canada, without their Japanese father, and she does not know how this will be handled at Immigration. Will they insist that her five-year-old be separated from her and sent to a different line because he has a Japanese passport? I told her that I expect they will allow him the privilege of waiting with his potential terrorist mother in the foreigners' line, but what about when the kids are older?

So my attitude to this law is that it is a silly one, it achieves very little of use, the information collected could be used in less than savoury ways (or, more likely, lost, or released to the wrong people by mistake), and it is likely to cause a lot more trouble and inconvenience than it supposedly prevents. But it is also rumoured to be a cash cow for certain well-placed people, so I expect it is unlikely to be repealed at least until they have milked the cow for as much as they can get from it.

(Contamination has written several posts about this issue.)


Contamination said...

I’ve just added you to a report on the Japan Blogging communities reaction to the fingerprinting issue.
jDonuts Fingerprinting in Japan, A Blogs Eye View