Apple's Touch ID, which lets a fingerprint unlock the iPhone, has revived interest around the world in the century-old method of fingerprint analysis and its possible uses.
This summer, the Japanese government will test a program that will enable international visitors to prove who they are — and make purchases at stores — via fingerprint scanners, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, a leading newspaper.
Here’s the plan: When foreign passengers land at Tokyo’s airports, they would register two of their fingerprints and personal data, including credit card details. Devices would be installed at stores that would enable the two fingerprints to serve as an alternate form of payment.
Hotels would also receive the devices, so that fingerprint scans could replace the need for guests to show their passports to stay, as is currently required by law.
About 300 Tokyo shops and restaurants will participate in this summer's trial, with expectations of expanding the tests to other areas.
The move is in anticipation of Tokyo hosting the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. It is partly about trying to encourage foreign visitors to spend money, partly about showing off the country’s tech-savviness, and partly about collecting data to identify tourist patterns of behavior.
The system is voluntary. But it should be relatively inexpensive, given the falling costs of optical and electronic scanners. If popular, other countries and organizations may look to copy it.
More details at the Yomiuri Shimbun's English edition.
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NB: Image courtesy Apple's 2013 presentation/Flickr/Creative Commons