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What's in your wallet?: The Zairyuu Kaado with IC chip


Debito Arudou’s article, “IC you: bugging the alien” brings up the debate on privacy, immigration, Big Brother, the use and/or abuse of technology, and well, possibly for some, unfounded fears. Debito states “new gaijin id cards could allow police to remotely track foreigners.” I sort of sat on the fence on the new “gaijin (gaikokujin),” or foreigner, identification card debate but you know, the argument that cell phones can also be used for tracking is just as valid. I have carried various ID cards embedded with various chips that hold a variety of information.

I could just as easily track various people just by using their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Loopt and other social networks. it “seems” that some people online are not too caring about who tracks them (as long as it isn’t Big Brother, I guess). What stops the GOJ from requesting copies of the cell phone applications or cell phone registries of foreigners in Japan? This is used in criminal and national security investigations. Oh! And in divorce or cases were one of the spouses is cheating (or possibly cheating) on the other. What stops the GOJ for requesting the utility, bank or other records of foreigners in Japan. Would it be easier for the Immigration Bureau to “require” Ward Offices to submit a list of “registered” foreigners that could be used to track them (to a certain degree)?  I wonder if the RFID “tracking” argument still valid? 

In the past, I fought against fingerprinting when I received my first “civilian” identification card in Japan. It was an interesting battle that I will share when my book is released. There were/are legal ways around the system that I used to “blend” within Japan’s society. Of course, when I ventured to various places and was approached by the police during the “excuse me, show me you passport” or “let me practice my English on the foreigner” exercises, I had fun -when I had time on my hands – or ended up frustrated other times when I passed by the same koban (police box) on my way to/from work only to be stopped and questioned again. In the end, I ended up giving a group of cops in Osaka a case of American beer and a case of macadamia nuts that I brought back from Hawaii. This stopped the questioning/harassment  and actually allowed me to learn more about the “system” I choose to live in and the “system” that the local guys on the beat were required to enforce. 

With that said, please read the article and provide feedback. By the way, please stick to attacking the article and not the writer! Here is Debito’s argument: “On the proposed legislation to make things more “convenient” and “protected” for NJ residents: the New Zairyuu Kaado with biometric data stored on IC Chips. Convenient? Yeah, for the police, not NJ. I make the case that, if the legislation is passed, policing and punishments will only get stricter, and the chipped cards will act as “bugs” encouraging further police checkpoints and racial profiling.”

Here is Debito’s article: “When the Japanese government first issued alien registration cards (aka gaijin cards) in 1952, it had one basic aim in mind: to track “foreigners” (at that time, mostly Korean and Taiwanese stripped of Japanese colonial citizenship) who decided to stay in postwar Japan.

Gaijin cards put foreigners in their place: Registry is from age 16, so from a young age they were psychologically alienated from the rest of Japanese society. So what if they were born and acculturated here over many generations? Still foreigners, full stop.

Even today, when emigrant non-Japanese far outnumber the native-born, the government tends to see them all less as residents, more as something untrustworthy to police and control. Noncitizens are not properly listed on residency registries. Moreover, only foreigners must carry personal information (name and address, personal particulars, duration of visa status, photo, and — for a time — fingerprints) at all times. Gaijin cards must also be available for public inspection under threat of arrest, one year in jail and ¥200,000 in fines.

However, the Diet is considering a bill abolishing those gaijin cards.”

Click here to read the complete article. Further information is on Debito’s blog.

Illustration by Chris McKenzie


  1. Brad Brad May 21, 2009

    Well this is one of those topics that will stir up a great deal of controversy. I for one am not a fan of “big brother” digging into my daily affairs, and shutter at the thought of what the future may hold for our civil liberties. Some may argue “Hey! If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about.” Right? Wrong! Many ideals start out with good intentions; however there will always be potential for abuse and misuse of this technology. The unfortunate fact is that many people are yielding to this type of technology without realizing what it can be used for. For example, TiVo and other types of DVRs track your recording habits, many cell phones have GPS capabilities, and many people give an up to date report of their location and activities via Facebook and other social networking websites. As we are seduced by new gadgets and technology, we are blind to the fact that our privacy may be invaded on a daily basis.
    Imagine a time in the not so distant future, in which every aspect of your life is contained on a single chip which is controlled by some unknown government entity that can freeze your assets, deny you services, or make you disappear alltogether. It’s a frightening thought, but not so far fetched. We are led to believe that technology such as this card is a legitimate way track “gaijins” in Japan, but eventually it can lead to everyone being tracked as they go about their day to day lives. I recently read an article on the “Mainichi Daily News” website that discusses how Aoyama Gakuin University has given free iPhones to staff and students in order to utilize the GPS capabilities to determine whether or not they are in school. Future application of this device may also be used for course materials and communication, but the ideal of tracking students and staff alike has me a bit concerned.
    Furthermore, I have heard of companies that utilize this type of technology monitor productivity and track the movements of employees. Quite frankly I do not like the ideal of someone monitoring how often I visit the restroom and the duration of my stay. The bottom line is……….Where do you draw the line between security, productivity and privacy?

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