Unequal Distribution of Surveillance: Data Processing of Nuclear Workers in Japan

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 9:45 AM
Room: Booth 43
Oral Presentation
Midori OGASAWARA , Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada
Inequality has been a central question in surveillance studies because personal data have been sorted to categories and the data-subjects have been treated differently depending on the categories in which they are placed. The word of “social sorting” shed a bright light to those activities of dividing people behind the curtain, although data-collecting systems are usually established in the claim of everyone’s benefit, either all customers or all citizens.

Surveillance does not serve everybody. Furthermore, surveillance society inevitably contains times and places that are intended to be outside of intensive scrutiny. In spite of its ubiquitous appearance, distribution of surveillance differs with the targets, more precisely, with the relations between watching power and watched population. In turn, such times and places disclose whom the surveillance system serves.

In the Japanese context, such sites, particularly unveiled after the earthquakes on March 11, 2011, are nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants are operated using numerous electronic monitoring systems. But the workers are not consistently surveilled. Their data of exposure to radiation have been often unrecorded, underestimated, or distorted. The government has tracked their data only for research purposes, never using the data for the workers’ own safety. The lack of reliable records allows electric companies to keep hiring the workers temporarily and contributes to reproducing labor power at the plants.

Based on the research of data processing on nuclear workers in Japan, this paper shows how the unequal distribution of surveillance plays a part of surveillance society. The workers at risk seem to be most in need of monitoring, but are excluded in the middle of highly-wired plant. The mass surveillance and interactive features of electronic technologies disguise equality and democracy. Yet, unmonitored or unrecorded sites highlight the unequal landscape of surveillance society before social sorting starts.