Oct 14, 2016

Foreigners entering Japan to be checked against database of international terrorists

Foreigners entering Japan to be checked against database of international terrorists photo

According to reports, Japan’s Ministry of Justice (法務省) today announced that from the 17th of this month, all foreigners entering Japan through airports and ports will, in principle, as part of immigration procedures, have their facial images screened for comparison with those on a database of international terrorists.  

It probably goes without saying that this forms part of a plan to prevent any would terrorist plots that might target the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

An article on JIJI.COM details that screenings will be in place at 156 ports of entry (airports, harbours etc) across Japan. Children under the age of 16, diplomats, and in those with a special permanent residence status will be exempt from the screenings.  

In the event of a facial matching, authorities may seek deportation measures. 

The database of international terrorists is reported to come from a cooperation with INTERPOL (otherwise ICPO) and national security agencies from other countries, with data being updated as and when required. 

Matching the noun ‘foreigner’ with the phrase ‘international terrorists’ is a sure fire way to pique the attention these days, and for all the clever innovations and appeals to ‘omotenashi’ that are being churned out daily as Japan gets giddier at the prospect of the Olympics in 2020, it was as sure as anything can be that tighter measures to prevent terrorism were going to be introduced. Well, here’s one of them.  

Words like ‘screening’, ‘facial recognition’, and ‘shared database’ are always going to draw the ire of those on the left. Conversely, planned screenings such as this will likely be met with a fist pumping, ‘Too bloody right!’, by those on the, well, extreme right. Down the middle somewhere, might be a bunch of people who had assumed that this kind of thing was being done anyway.  

To this expat, the procedure sounds by turns extreme (the thought of my face popping up next to some seasoned terrorist raises a chuckle) and perfectly natural. However, let’s be honest, those questions you get asked on customs and immigration forms the world over (Are you carrying and lethal weapons? Are you a criminal? or wording to that effect), does anyone actually tick the ‘Yes’ box? If only it were that easy. No, alas, the powers that be, rightly or wrongly, have decided that they need something more sophisticated in place. 

An obvious question will be ‘Why is it only foreigners?’. The term ‘international terrorist’ might lend itself to foreigners being the natural choice here, but do we remember the time Turkish authorities nabbed that Japanese lad trying to get into Syria to join ISIS?

The next question one needs to ask is how accurately these comparisons can be made, because obviously the thought of being mistaken as an international terrorist is as absurd as it is troubling. Finally, in our source article, the term ‘in principle’ is used. So ‘in principle’ foreigners will be checked against a database of international terrorists. Maybe it’s just this expat, but ‘in principle’ has the nuance of ‘not always’ or ‘just whenever they can be bothered’. Which begs the question of what kind of foreigners are likely to be subject to this screening? Oh, and does it apply to Special Re-entry Permit holders?

Does the thought of being checked against a database of international terrorists trouble you? Or, does it seem to be a salient measure of security?  

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