As of July 9th, 2012, foreigners in Japan are getting new ID cards. These cards are perfectly wonderful and will make everything so much easier for us we’ll wonder how we ever survived without them. Or at least that’s what websites with cartoony graphics tell me.
What caught my attention is that these new cards are embedded with a small microchip that broadcasts your personal data to anyone with a reader. These are IC chips, which use RFID technology. It’s the same thing in your SUICA train pass, except that you don’t have to hold it up to the reader. Some RFID chips can be read as far away as 30 feet.
I researched to try to find out how far away these cards can be read and found nothing. I guess it’s not an important detail. To me, it’s extremely important because I want to know who’s accessing my personal data. The ones in the new American passports can be read up to 10 meters away even though the US government lied and said it was only 10 centimeters.
Only police, banks and immigration authorities are going to be using these scanners apparently. However, I did a quick search online and found out that anybody can buy an RFID scanner. All you need is money.
One note here – some folks worry about discrimination against foreigners, but things are no different for the Japanese. From what I understand, all new ID cards in Japan are getting chipped.
Two things I worry about here…
Privacy. I want a person in some position of recognized authority to ASK me for my ID before I surrender my personal information. As foreigners, we’re required to show our ID if asked by a cop or other authority figure. But the key here is that they have to ask. They can’t be sneaky about it.
Identity Theft. Japan’s a country with lots of high tech crime. Do you really think there aren’t guys with RFID scanners and big plans? It’s one thing to surrender your personal information to a person with a badge, but quite another when it’s a random guy on the train.
Call me paranoid if you wanna. I’m not taking any chances. I ordered a Travelon RFID Blocking Billfold from Amazon and I’ll write a review of it after I try it out. There are all sorts of RFID blocking wallets and passport cases that you can buy. They effectively block the signal so that the authority person has to go through the headache of asking to see it.
By the way, one good thing about the new ID – no more of those stupid re-entry visas! I’ve got to say I’m a bit excited about that.