In the spring of 2008, the Tobacco Institute of Japan together with the associations of tobacco retailers and vending machine manufacturers introduced Taspo, “tobacco passport.” At the time, the system seemed a reasonable enough solution to one of Japan’s perennial problems — underage smoking. However, Taspo now is reported to have found a new use — helping investigators track down the movements of criminal suspects.

The Tobacco Institute of Japan, which oversees the Taspo system, revealed recently that personal data and records of specific tobacco purchases at Taspo-required vending machines were handed over to public prosecutors. That may seem no different from using credit card purchases as evidence or using cell phone records to trace criminal activity, but smokers still have a right to privacy.

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