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Japan Tightening Electronic Surveillance of Foreigners

New IC-enabled ID cards bode ill for country already steeped in biometric technology

James Corbett
The Corbett Report

18 September, 2009

On top of being fingerprinted and photographed each time they enter the country and being forced to carry a government-issued ID card at all times, non-Japanese residing in Japan will soon have IC chips implanted in their ID cards, a move which human rights activists point out will allow police and government officials to remotely track and trace the movements of foreigners in the country.

In a recent interview with The Corbett Report, Arudou Debito—a naturalized Japanese citizen and campaigner for the rights of non-Japanese in Japan—warned of the dangers inherent in this technology. "Why is tracking of people necessary?[...]Whatever you enforce upon a segment of the population is going to be material to enforce upon the rest of the population," he said. Watch the interview in the video below:

As a country well-known for its technological innovation, perhaps it comes as no surprise that Japan is leading the western world in implementing an electronic grid for tracking and tracing its own foreign residents. But just as Japan is becoming a test case for the technology of this electronic control grid, so it also serves as a model for getting the public to accept this technology as part of their daily lives.

As with most repressive practices, the practice of electronically surveilling the citizenry is being introduced as a measure to protect the country from the perceived threat of foreign criminals and terrorists. This is a technique that has been used by repressive regimes throughout history, from the Nazi persecution of the Jews to Britain's recent attempts to force foreigners onto the new national ID card first as a way of easing the measure in without fear of political backlash. Many Japanese are unaware that foreigners even carry an ID card, let alone that it will soon be IC-enabled. The idea of foreigners being forced to surrender their biometric data at the border was not debated at all in the Japanese media when it sailed through the Diet in 2006. Of those that are aware, many are placated by the idea that such technologies will protect them from dangerous foreigners, despite the fact that the only spectacular terror attacks to take place on Japanese soil have been perpetrated by Japanese.

Now the general public in Japan is being conditioned to accept the idea that they, too, will be subject to constant electronic surveillance. For years now, Japanese ATMs have incorporated palm print technology as an optional security measure. Although this option is neither mandatory nor popularly used, it serves to condition the public that the use of biometric devices is the future of identification technology...despite the fact the this technology is ridiculously error-prone and often wildly inappropriate.

As the following video points out, CCTV surveillance on the street is also popping up in unexpected places:

What these trends indicate is that the technology now exists to keep electronic tabs on every citizen at all times and governments around the world are keen to use it. Even those who implicitly trust government officials to only use such technology for good must recognize the incredible danger that such a surveillance grid would present in the hands of a corrupt or tyrannical government.

Those who are concerned about this trend, from Japan to India to Mexico and everywhere in between must do what they can now to alert their fellow citizens to the potential danger of this technology and the real uses for which it is intended.

Related works from The Corbett Report:

The Biometric Control Grid (podcast episode)