Fingerprint data sharing agreement between Japan and U.S. takes effect

Fingerprint data sharing agreement between Japan and U.S. takes effect

Law enforcement agencies in Japan and the U.S. have begun sharing fingerprint data under a bilateral agreement, intending to strengthen cooperative efforts to fight terrorism and organized crime, the Japan Times reports.

The agreement between the countries was reached in 2014, when President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to allow Japan’s National Police Agency (NPA) and U.S. agencies such as the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to cross-reference their biometric databases. Individuals travelling between the countries will also be identified on arrival, if they have committed a “serious crime,” which is defined as one with a maximum prison sentence of more than one year. The agreement specifies 34 different crimes as being in-scope, including terrorism offences, white-collar crimes, cyberattacks, intellectual property theft, and trafficking in child pornography, drugs, or humans.

Agencies can request fingerprint data for an individual if they have just cause to do so, and an AFIS installed in both countries will handle inquiries automatically. The NPA says it has about 11 million identified fingerprints in its database, as well as about 380,000 unidentified latent prints from unsolved cases. It also says the FBI has about 75 million fingerprint sets, and DHS has nearly 230 million.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations raised concerns in a statement, saying that the scope of “serious crimes” is too broad, expressing concern about mission creep, and arguing that existing agreements, including a 2004 revision meant to expedite fingerprint sharing, make the need for a new agreement questionable. The U.S. and Japanese governments say the new agreement will reduce the waiting periods that follow requests under the existing system.

The bar association says that American authorities requested one set of fingerprint information from Japan between 2010 and 2012.

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