Friday, May 02, 2008

Being Fingerprinted at the Airport

Just returned to Nihon last week. I was keen to experience the new 'anti- crime and terrorism' measure that has been put in place at international airports in Japan: the fingerprinting of all non-Japanese.

It could easily be argued that this procedure is discriminatory, offensive, and degrading. While trumpeted as a way of preventing terrorism, it ignores the fact that the only terrorist attacks ever made on Japanese soil were committed by Japanese nationals (sarin gas, anyone?). As for crime, well, despite sensationalist media reports whenever a foreigner commits a crime in Japan, statistically, foreigners commit fewer crimes than Japanese. So, it's pretty clear the fingerprinting is not really about crime or terrorism, it's about xenophobia.

But who am I to complain about that? Australia is pretty racist and xenophobic too, and if the Japanese want to upset their local foreigners and the international community in general, it's not my problem, just another symptom of exclusion and the accompanying decline. If Japan desires to fingerprint all incoming foreigners, they should feel free.

Too bad it doesn't work.

The fingerprinting system is, shall we say, not particularly effective. You are required to place your two index fingers on a glass electronic-reading mechanism. After you hear the pleasant 'ping pong' sound, you can take them off and you are recorded. However, what happened to me, and to almost all people around me, was the depressing 'unh- unh' of electronic failure. This happened 7 times in a row before I lost a little patience and started a little non-violent protest, placing different fingers on the glass at different times, and moving them around in groovy circles. I then found out that it takes about 5 seconds to process an attempt, but each attempt is recorded more or less instantly, so you can creat a 'backlog' of failed attempts, taking your fingers off and standing helplessly with a dumb look on your face as the machine registers failure after failure. Great stuff.

Even after I started playing ball again, the machine just didn't seem to like me. The operator first dried my fingers and the glass, then moistened them with a special little cloth, it seemed I was there for years...

When I finally got through the operator didn't seem annoyed- it was clear she dealt with this a hundred times a day, and as I walked through I heard the next person behind me register his first attempt with a resounding failure.

No comments: