The Justice Ministry is aiming to experimentally introduce a facial recognition system to identify Japanese people starting in August to speed up the immigration control process at airports.
The system will identify travelers by cross-checking photos of their faces, to be taken in immigration control spaces, with information on their passports. The experiments will be conducted for about five weeks at Narita and Haneda airports.
The system was tested for the first time in 2012, but the introduction was postponed because the accuracy rate was low.
The government decided to conduct the experiments again because it is expected that foreign tourists to Japan will greatly increase ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, thereby requiring a quicker immigration process.
The system will be applied only for Japanese nationals. By cutting back time and the workforce necessary to check the departures and entries of Japanese, the ministry aims to use the extra resources to reinforce checks on foreign nationals.
The ministry plans to introduce the system as early as fiscal 2017.
The demonstration experiments will be performed after asking passengers in the airports for cooperation and gaining their consent.
In the first stage, machines will read data in integrated circuit chips in the passenger's passport at immigration control spaces, and the person's face will then be photographed on the spot. The photos and photo data in the IC chips will be cross-checked to identify the passport holders.
The ministry will test two patterns of photos. One type of photo will be taken when the person stands still and the other type of photo will be taken while the person is walking.
About five companies will be chosen through public tenders, and facial recognition systems developed by the firms will be tested in the experiments.
The mainstream method of immigration control in Japanese airports is face-to-face passport checking by immigration officers.
At major airports, automatic gates with a system to identify people by fingerprints are installed. But registration in advance is necessary to use the system, and many people have complained that using the system is bothersome.
The facial recognition system can reduce the number of necessary immigration officers, and could also shorten time it takes for passengers to pass through immigration gates, including time spent waiting in lines at immigration control.