What Price Security? Japan, Britain and the threat of terrorism
BY Kanno Yusuke, Sasaki Manabu and Inada Shinji
Although Japan and Britain are both island nations, they are worlds
apart--not just geographically, but in their approach to the threat
Both governments became targets of al-Qaida for supporting the
U.S.-led war against terror. The two countries are now tightening
immigration controls in their battle against terrorism.
While the measures being introduced are similar, the intensity of
debate over related legal revisions is like oil and water.
In May, Japan's Diet passed a bill requiring all foreign nationals
aged 16 or over--with the exception of state guests and those with
special permanent resident status--to be fingerprinted and
photographed upon arrival.
Despite the controversial nature of the legislation, debate in the
Diet was low-key. Interest among the general public was lukewarm, at
In March, Britain passed legislation requiring all passports to
contain biometric data such as irises and fingerprints. But that
transpired only after heated debate and repeated revisions and
British immigration control officers started using iris recognition
on an experimental basis that same month.
However, with continuing dissent and a general election slated for
2009, it is possible--if the ruling Labor Party is trounced--that
the new system will be scrapped as it is not due to be in place
Japan's system changes have much in common with those in Britain,
including exercising tighter controls on foreign nationals and the
use of fingerprinting.
Meanwhile, Japanese and foreign residents of Japan with ID cards
embedded with fingerprint data will be able to use fast-track border
control checks operated by automatic gates.
Anybody found to have ties with terrorist groups will be deported.
During the Diet debate, opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of
Japan) called for caution and more time for deliberations on the
Proposed revisions included a clearly worded statement that personal
information such as fingerprints would not be used for purposes
other than immigration control.
Opposition lawmakers also expressed concerns about using the U.S.
firm Accenture to set up the new border control system using
biometric data. They said they feared data recorded in Japan might
become available in the United States.
Last fall, Accenture won a bid for only 100,000 yen to develop an
experimental system that allows holders of IC cards with fingerprint
data to pass through automatically operated immigration gates.
Accenture also developed the fingerprint data-management system
For the U.S. government that tracks all foreign nationals entering the
The U.S. firm is also involved in the development of systems for tax
authorities and public prosecutors in Japan.
The government dismissed concerns of possible data leaks with the
promise that it would "strictly control data in line with the law."
Kono Taro, senior vice minister of justice, stated a pressing need
for the new legislation, saying: "We can't afford to be leisurely
about this. There were terrorist attacks in Bali and in London, and
al-Qaida is said to be targeting Japan, too."
The bill proposed by the government was endorsed on May 17.
The revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition
Law stirred little public interest in part because most Japanese assume
the changes have nothing to do with themselves, experts said.
Japanese nationals are excluded from the fingerprint requirement.
An estimated 470,000 non-Japanese with special resident status are also
Most of those with special resident status are Koreans who came to
Japan before and during World War II. Their descendants also fall
into this category.
"It was a decision as a matter of policy," a senior Justice Ministry
The decision to exclude them from the new requirements stemmed
From fears of a severe backlash from the Korean community, sources said.
Mizukami Yoichiro, 64, former director of the Tokyo Immigration
Bureau, said he believes the fingerprinting requirement runs counter
to Japan's national interest in that it will hinder efforts to co-exist
peacefully with others.
With this in mind, he asked an executive official of pro-Seoul
Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) if he minded receiving
The executive apparently was bewildered.
In the 1980s, second- and third-generation Korean residents
spearheaded a movement against the fingerprint requirement for alien
Kim Sang Sa, 34, a third-generation Korean resident, acknowledged
the Korean community was slow to react this time around.
"We started to move in March after we learned the details of the
proposed bill," he said. "But we ran out of time when the bill was
Kang Sang Jung, a professor of political science at the University
of Tokyo, says the revision is a reflection of the "anxiety syndrome" that
he believes is gripping Japan.
"Security attracts attention, and people are increasingly seeing
foreigners as targets for risk management," he says.
Kang, a second-generation Korean resident, had his fingerprints
taken for alien registration at the age of 16. Later, he refused to
"In Europe and the United States, moves to tighten control like this
would surely face opposition because of human rights concerns," he
says. "Crime prevention is important, but we need to hammer out a
balance in conflicts between order and our rights."
Yoshinari Katsuo, 55, a former representative of the Asian People's
Friendship Society, voiced sadness that Japanese seem to generally
regard the new legislation as "somebody else's problem."
Yoshinari noted that foreign nationals residing in Japan were
basically kept in the dark, with the result that most foreigners
assumed the new legislation would only affect new arrivals--which is
far from the case.
"So far, Japan has been a comfortable place for foreigners to live
in," said Pakistani Nusrat Ali, a 44-year-old long-term Japan
resident. "But from now on, you'll be treated like a criminal simply
because you are a foreigner."
In Britain, meantime, the Labor government clashed head-on with
opposition parties over border control revisions and anti-terrorism
Following last July's terrorist attacks, Prime Minister Tony Blair
declared that the "rules of the game are changing" and went on to
propose steps that would make it easier to expel foreign criminals.
But his administration's plan to introduce ID cards with biometric
data met with strong opposition both from the left-of-center Liberal
Democrats and, on the right, the Conservative Party.
Critics fear police may take advantage of the new ID card as a means
to crack down on illegal immigrants, thereby fueling racial tensions, or
that it may lead to the leak--and abuse--of personal information.
Another factor is cost.
Miyajima Takashi, professor of sociology at Hosei University's
graduate school, attributes the difference in public perceptions
between Japan and Britain to the two countries' experience with
Miyajima notes one in 10 British citizens is an immigrant or a
descendant of one.
When problems arise with a foreign country, the immigrant population
serves as a "bridge," linking the British to other nations.
That, he says, explains the British tendency to believe that
problems facing foreigners also concern them.
"On the other hand, Japan has only a short history of accepting
foreigners," he says. "The Japanese don't share foreigners' opinions
and tend to regard them as 'not directly related to us.'"
This article appeared in the IHT/Asahi Shimbun on July 25, 2006.
Posted at Japan Focus on August 3, 2006.