Welcome to Japan
On November 20 2007, Japan passed a law requiring all non-Japanese citizens over 16 years of age to be fingerprinted and photographed when entering Japan. The law also encompassed foreign nationals living in Japan.
I blogged about this at the time and questioned whether the Japanese had the wrong targets – the biometrics programme was supposedly being introduced to counter “the war on terror”. So the argument seemed to be foreigners equal terrorists, so let’s round ’em up, fingerprint and photograph them. Japanese authorities seemed to conveniently forget that domestic, not foreign, terrorism is their problem (Sarin gas attack in Tokyo subway as an example). So dudes: if you really want to smoke out terrorists, fingerprint everyone, including Japanese citizens. But I reckon your country is pretty low on Al Qaeda’s list of who or what to blow up.
Criticism at the time even suggested that Japan’s new biometric system had more to do with xenophobia and racism. Of course, the real reason is that biometrics is BIG business since 9/11. The biometrics industry is predicted to be worth more than US $7 billion a year by 2012. This is why we will all be subjected in the future to being fingerprinted and photographed to death.
However, when it comes to Google StreetView, the Japanese seem to mind very much if THEY are the targets of surveillance. Forget the poor foreigners lining up in immigration to get fingerprinted and snapped! You know what I think of StreetView. If you don’t, go here and here. StreetView hit Japan in August 2008 with the insidious Google vans cruising up and down the streets of twelve Japanese cities.
But a bunch of Japanese academics, journalists and lawyers have sent a petition to Google’s Japanese subsidiary demanding that StreetView be canned because….it’s an invasion of privacy. Yeah, could have told them that. The petition in part said that the Google service “constitutes violent infringement on citizens’ privacy by photographing residential areas, including community roads, and publishing their images without the consent of communities and citizens” and that StreetView is distributing private information “more easily, widely, massively and permanently than ordinary cameras and surveillance cameras do”. Mmmmmm…..seems though they might be more sensitive about Japanese “love hotels” being captured by StreetView and showing couples walking in or out.
Well dudes, have a think about this – whilst your complaining about violation of your privacy, what about foreigners who are subjected to biometrics? Aside from the fact that I wonder if targeting a particular group (ie non-Japanese citizens) could be legally challenged, think about the fact that fingerprints and photographs comprise unique digital records, which can be reproduced, stolen or shared with other Governments (eg the US) against the will or the knowledge of said poor foreign national. The legislation that passed into law Japan’s biometric programme specifically states that digital information collected will be checked against international crime and terrorism databases, as well as domestic crime records and then stored for an unspecified time. So whilst Japanese citizens are fretting over distribution of private information and being caught on StreetView, foreigners have to worry about what information the Japanese will share about them with foreign governments.
Let’s not kid ourselves by naively thinking that our private information can’t or won’t be shared. Northwest airlines happily handed over passenger information to NASA, despite assuring passengers that the airline would not share confidential passenger data. JetBlue has admitted that it secretly gave passenger records including names, addresses, phone numbers and flight information to a Defense Department contractor. I could give you many more examples.
Japanese citizens: welcome to the world of surveillance.