© Emran Kassim


Japan’s new approach to Passenger Name Records

10 June 2015
By Hideharu TANAKA, Counsellor (International Cooperation), Customs and Tariff Bureau, Ministry of Finance, Japan

A record high of 13.4 million foreign passengers visited Japan during the last year, according to statistics compiled by the Japan Tourism Agency. This number has doubled in the last three years; a trend which is expected to continue and may reach more than 20 million in 2020 when the Olympic and Paralympic Games are held in Tokyo.

Moreover, Japan Customs has seized a number of illicit goods carried by air travellers, and effective control is required to cope with this challenge. In addition, there is an urgent need to further enhance border controls, especially in the light of recent terrorist incidents, such as the murder of Japanese citizens in Syria last January.

Considering the growth in passenger numbers and the continued threats from terrorism and other Customs offences, Japan is intensifying approaches that facilitate the movement of low-risk travellers at borders while concentrating Customs’ resources on high-risk travellers.

Steps and action taken

In terms of air passengers, Japan has taken several steps, including an increase in the number of Customs officers working at airports, effective and efficient use of  state-of-the-art enforcement equipment, cooperation with stakeholders, and risk management using advance information. Following an amendment in 2011, Japan’s Customs Law gives Customs the legal right to ask airlines to submit Passenger Name Record (PNR) data on inbound travellers.

Accordingly, Japan Customs has retained and analysed PNR data, prior to arrival, on a limited number of travellers, suspected of being at a high-risk of committing Customs offences. This action has already been successful as risk assessment using PNR data has led to a number of illegal drug seizures.

New approach

To build on this success, Japan considers it indispensable to electronically retain and analyse the PNR data of all inbound air travellers. A number of measures have therefore been taken over the last few months. With the amendment of PNR-related regulations in March 2015, airlines are now able to submit PNR data to Japan Customs electronically. In addition, airlines have been systematically assisted to equip themselves with the necessary information technology (IT) solutions to enable PNR push-reporting.

These reforms will take some time. Airlines need a couple of months to implement electronic PNR reporting using sound IT solutions, for instance. It is expected that, when ready, by the beginning of the coming summer, airlines will submit electronic PNR data to Japan Customs twice, i.e. 72 hours prior to departure and after take-off. It is expected that, within one year, PNR data on all air travellers carried by nearly 100% of flights arriving at Japanese airports will be submitted electronically.

Data protection

Once retained by Japan Customs, PNR data is strictly protected under domestic laws and regulations. It must be used exclusively for specific purposes as prescribed by the Customs Law. Only a limited number of Customs officers can review PNR data, and it may not be copied or taken outside Customs’ safekeeping. Multi-layered IT security systems have been introduced also to prevent unauthorized persons inside and outside Customs from accessing PNR data retained by Customs.

International and regional cooperation

Japan strongly supports the 2012 WCO recommendation concerning the use of PNR data. It believes that if more Customs administrations around the world use PNR data to effectively assess the risk of travellers and strengthen Customs-to-Customs cooperation on PNR data, Customs border controls would be enhanced worldwide.

With this in mind, Japan hosted a WCO Asia Pacific Regional Workshop on the use of PNR data in May 2015, and plans to support capacity building activities in this field. In addition, Japan successfully proposed the establishment of a virtual Working Group on PNR data at the WCO Enforcement Committee in March 2015. This Group has already started working, and many WCO Members are expected to participate actively in it, thus producing meaningful outcomes in a timely manner.

Multiple benefits

Japan Customs has made the collection and use of PNR data one of its top policy priorities, in order to enhance border enforcement against terrorism and illicit goods, while facilitating the flow of legitimate air travellers. Japan believes that its new approach to PNR data is beneficial, not only to Customs, but also to travellers and airlines.

Inbound travellers will benefit as Japan’s new approach facilitates the entry of low-risk air travellers into the country. Airlines arriving at Japanese airports also benefit as they will be able to attract more customers, confident that Japan is safe due to its robust and systematic border controls.

Recognizing that tourism is a key driver of economic growth, Japan Customs plays an active role in promoting tourism while ensuring the safety and security of Japanese citizens as well as inbound overseas travellers.


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