The Justice Ministry will review a controversial Immigration Bureau Web site where people can anonymously report suspicious foreigners who might be illegal aliens.
But although groups supporting foreign nationals living in Japan have criticized the ministry and called for the online service to be scrapped, the ministry is expected to only conduct a partial review, sources said Thursday.
Visitors to the site, launched Feb. 16, can enter the name, address or workplace of any suspicious foreigners. The report is then automatically sent to regional immigration bureaus, which have jurisdiction over workplaces where foreigners are employed.
Informants are asked to select a motive for reporting a foreigner from a list on the site. The reasons a foreigner can be reported include “causing a nuisance in the neighborhood” and “causing anxiety.”
Critics say these reasons have nothing to do with illegal behavior.
The sources said the ministry might revise the list of motives on the Web site, or may ask informants to write their own reasons for turning someone in to the authorities.
During a session of the House of Councilors Budget Committee on Monday, Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima said some of the listed motives have no legal relevance.
“The service will only increase discrimination against foreigners who are reported just because a neighbor feels ‘anxious’ about them,” she said.
Ministry officials had maintained that there were no problems with the service. But it now says the service “could be misleading.”
Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa told Tuesday’s session of the Upper House Judicial Affairs Committee that the ministry hopes to “come up with different ways” to run the service.
The ministry added more motives Wednesday to the list on the site and reminded users that it will not tolerate efforts to libel foreigners.
On the same day, a network of nongovernmental organizations and religious and labor union groups supporting foreign citizens in Japan brought the matter to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
The network, Stop Cyber Xenophobia, called on the federation to urge the Immigration Bureau to terminate the service.
It said the bureau’s decision to start the service out of “convenience” constitutes racial discrimination and violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Japan acceded to this convention in 1995.
Among the more than 230 groups participating in the network are the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, Zentoitsu Workers Union, Japan Civil Liberties Union, human rights watchdog Amnesty International Japan and Catholic Tokyo International Center.
The network, represented by a lawyer and 18 members, called on the federation to propose the need for a law to regulate acts of racial discrimination and invasion of privacy that may result from the government’s use of computer technology. Japan is in danger of becoming a “society of surveillance,” it said.
It also asked the federation to propose the creation of an independent human rights redress body that will look into cases of rights violations by law enforcement authorities, including the Immigration Bureau and police.
Immigration officials have claimed the online service is “simply part of measures to computerize” such data.
They said the effectiveness of the service “remains to be seen,” and that authorities will not necessarily move immediately to apprehend suspected illegal residents following a tipoff.
A bureau official said about 780 tipoffs had been made in the 25 days between Feb. 16 and March 11, or about 31 reports each day.