Method in the madness?

Japanese firms stand to gain from tougher border controls in a post-9/11 world

In November, Japan became only the second country in the world (after the United States) to introduce mandatory fingerprinting and photo-taking at all international entry points, as part of beefed-up “antiterrorism” measures by the Ministry of Justice.

The move was greeted by howls of protest from human rights groups, lawyers and foreigners, who warned that it would help create the perception that “outsiders” disrupt domestic harmony and fuel crime. Many questioned the need for such elaborate security measures in a country where the chance of being attacked by a terrorist is about on a par with being struck by lightning.

“Why pick on us?” said one angry letter-writer to The Japan Times, calling the initiative “discriminatory” and “stupid.” Another critic was even harsher. “The motive of the new biometrics clearly is not stopping terrorism, but rather a new expression of Japan’s deep-seated racism and xenophobia,” wrote Donald M. Seekins.

Perhaps. As some pointed out, Japan’s minuscule terrorism problem is mostly homegrown. The country’s most lethal terrorist incident ? the Aum Shinrikyo gassing of Tokyo’s subway in 1995 ? was partly dreamt up by graduates of the country’s top universities. But there could be method in this apparently xenophobic madness, argues lawmaker Nobuto Hosaka of the Social Democratic Party.

“Business is behind this, no question,” he says. “There hasn’t been a terrorist incident in this country since Aum, so how else do we explain it?”

Hosaka has blogged extensively on biometrics ? technology that checks and stores information on unique individual characteristics such as irises, veins and voice to verify identity ? and is one of the few Diet politicians to publicly state that he finds its proliferation “alarming.”