Big Hubub About Photographing and Fingerprinting Foreigners

The Japan Times (English-language daily in Japan) has an article today about a plan to photograph and fingerprint foreigners entering Japan. It had been in the works for some time, and has been a topic of some debate, but now it's law.

Here are some excerpts:

Diet passes bill to take foreigners' prints, pics

By Masami Ito

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

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.

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, [and some others, like diplomats]

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.

To be clear, I'm one of the “foreign spouses” that will be treated differently than my partner. I will be fingerprinted and photographed.

With this law, I will require special permission to enter the country (I will have no basic right to be here). I will be allowed to remain only so long as the government (and my wife) allow. Now, I will not be allowed to vote in Japanese elections. I will have to have special state-issued identification on my person at all times. I will not be allowed to hold public office.

To sum it up, with the passage of this law, I will be treated like I'm not a Japanese citizen.

Oh, wait. I'm not a Japanese citizen. I'm already not allowed to vote or hold public office, and I already require a visa to be here, and already am at the whim of the country. I already have to carry around an “alien registration card” at all times. I'm already treated as if I'm not a Japanese citizen.... because I'm not.

I just don't understand all the hoopla around this whole thing. The person quoted in the article complains that it will encourage discrimination against foreigners, but since this law centers around the procedures required to enter the country, it's about a subject which intrinsically treats nationals differently than foreigners.

You do need to be photographed for a driver's licence, but not to walk across the street, and no one complains about the discrepancy — such a complaint would seem comparably silly to me.

My gaijin card --  外国人登録証明書

Here's the aforementioned “state-issued identification” that I have to carry around with me at all times. Informally called a “gaijin (foreigner) card” in English, in Japanese it's 外国人登 録証明書gaikokujin touroku shoumeishou — “proof of foregnier registration”

Years ago these cards had a fingerprint on them (right hand index finger, if I recall), and that was always a hubbub for some. I was here and was fingerprinted for it three times (the original, and two renewals over the years), and the fingerprint requirement didn't bother me in the least.

The last time I renewed the card, the guy was really sheepish about getting my fingerprint, and they provided a sticker I could put on the card's protective sleeve to cover the exposed fingerprint, should I feel sheepsih about it as well.

I don't really believe the “anti-terrorist” arguments the proponents of the law are using to grease its skids (in what country have we seen that approach before?), but at the same time, I think it's well within reason for a country to want to do if they want. It's their money and their time to waste, but it's also their country to do with as they see fit.

I'm a guest here. If I don't like it, I can always go to America where none of this will apply.... to me, at least.

All 6 comments so far, oldest first...

Dear Jeffrey,

I respectfully disagree with your thoughts re fingerprinting. It is a matter of what authorities will do with that information (Ala BIG BROTHER). Not only that, i feel violated to have to give my fingerprints when I am not a criminal. No person should have to do that. I would rather live in a world of respect harmony and civil rights than in a world driven by fear, BUSH and his puppy Koizumi.

What will my son think when his father is fingerprinted and photographed yet he and his mother are not…. difinetly something WRONG with this picture.

— comment by Terrance on May 18th, 2006 at 2:56pm JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

This is mostly one of those “agree to disagree” things, but your comment about not wanting to be fingerprinted when you’re not a criminal seems a bit out of step. Sure, fingerprinting and photo taking are part of the booking process a suspected criminal undergoes (in The States, at least), but there are plenty of other situations where one or the other happen.

You have your photo taken when you get a driver’s licence, become a student at a college, or come anywhere near me and my new camera (as the 15,000 photos of my son attest to:-).

There are professions in the US which require fingerprinting prior to entry (e.g. stockbroker, grade-school teacher in some places), children are often fingerprinted at the behest of their parents (in case they’re ever lost or something). Anyone with a green card has been fully fingerprinted (all 10 fingers) by a police officer, and paid for the privilege. Due to various ineptitudes of the INS, Fumie had to get fingerprinted five times in her quest for a greencard. In the end, they still misspelled her name on it…. twice.

Attributing some kind of “social stigma” to fingerprinting seems as disingenuous an argument as saying that fingerprinting will “help stop terrorism”. I don’t buy either, but I suppose I’d feel differently if I already felt that there was some social stigma associated with it, as perhaps you do.

As for what you son will think when Daddy is treated differently than Mommy, it’s something he’ll likely have to get used to. Will Mommy be treated differently than you upon entering your home country? Anyway, this is the least of your problems, if my son is any indication, as he’s at the age where he’s starting to notice, uh, *#8220;differences” between Mommy and Daddy and asking questions for which the answer is beyond him (but we still have to come up with an answer nevertheless)!

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on May 18th, 2006 at 3:37pm JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I had to get fingerprinted to work as a nurse in California. I dont’ feel particularly violated.

— comment by Marcina on May 21st, 2006 at 1:02am JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

I have to agree with Mr. Friedl. It’s not as if foreigners in Japan are being asked to wear radio collars. While I also agree that it is most likely pointless, it IS their country after all and if you are anything short of a full citizen, you are a guest. My very brief stay in Japan qualifies me as an expert on absolutely nothing Japanese, so I need to ask… does fingerprinting even hold the same stigma in Japanese culture? Honestly, I felt I was treated with more respect by the gentleman who looked through my luggage in Narita than the guy grilling me upon my return to JFK.

Everyone has their own comfort level with personal information. Perhaps like the nurse who posted, through my work I am numb to any feeling of violation from the taking of my thumb marks. I fail to see the difference between that and a photo. Both are intended to identify you. One is just more accurate, but at the same time less easy to utilize. Also, my fingerprints are hardly private, as I seem to have this habit of running around touching stuff pretty much at will, leaving them everywhere for the taking…

— comment by Jeff A. on May 26th, 2006 at 11:36pm JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink


I’m applying for college in Japan and they want me to show them this card, I’ve never been to Japan so how am I supposed to have it? Thanks for your help!

You need to already have a non-tourist visa and must be living in Japan to get the card, so you must be reading instructions intended for people already in Japan. I would have thought that a college admission would be what got you a visa in the first place, so perhaps you need to look for a different set of instructions (or perhaps the school doesn’t sponsor student visas?) —Jeffrey

— comment by jeff on January 20th, 2010 at 11:27am JST (14 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

After reading that I appreciate even more your driving us around!!!! Thanks!

— comment by Anne on August 30th, 2012 at 10:44pm JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink
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