[FOUNTAIN]Why should fingerprints be required?The problem of fingerprinting became known to the international community when a Christian minister, Choi Chang-wha, accused the Japanese government of discriminating against Koreans in Japan at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee in 1982.
According to Japanese law at the time, all foreigners residing in the country were fingerprinted by the government and were required to carry a certificate bearing their imprint. Yet the government only kept the prints of Japanese citizens who had criminal records.
Thus, fingerprinting was seen as signifying that the government wanted to keep as watchful an eye on foreign residents as it did on citizens who had criminal records.
More than 600,000 Korean residents, mostly those who were forcibly sent to Japan to work for the colonial regime before and during World War II or their family members, suffered discrimination for decades after the demise of the regime.
While the Japanese government had promised to end the unfair treatment of foreigners after it came under criticism from the international community, it took 17 years for the government to abolish the fingerprinting system entirely.
In the 1980s, the Japanese government did not feel the need to change the system; rather, it enforced it more strictly. It often attacked the vulnerability of Koreans whose livelihoods were dependent on Japan, threatening to not allow them to re-enter Japan if they had to travel abroad.
But in 1999, the government finally lifted this absurd regulation. The economic stagnation of the 1990s played a critical role, as Japan needed foreign investment to boost its depressed economy and sought to enhance an image of openness to attract the necessary capital.
Two controversial changes have taken place recently in Korea and the United States regarding fingerprinting. Korea has eliminated its demand for foreign residents’ fingerprints, but the United States has begun to require them from a large number of visitors.
For Korea, the change could raise the question of why the government is still demanding fingerprints from its citizens. In the case of the United States, the government appears to be degrading the image of a nation that has become the strongest and richest in the world through its openness by making entry into the country more uncomfortable and unpleasant.
by Wang Hee-soo
The writer is business desk news editor of the JoongAng Daily.