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Japanese surveillance studies researchers

August 12, 2009
Somebody's watching you... office workers walk past an installation in Shinjuku station, Tokyo

Somebody's watching you... office workers walk past an installation in Shinjuku station, Tokyo

We’ve met with several Japanese surveillance studies researchers whilst out here this time. I mentioned Ogura Toshimaru already the other day, but we also had a long meeting the week before with Hino Kimihiro, a researcher into bohan machizukuri (community security development), and government advisor on security planning. Dr Hino has been carrying out a number of research projects on both ‘designing out crime’ and on the effectiveness and public acceptability of CCTV in Japan. I hadn’t come across this research before as my contacts here were mainly in social sciences and law and Dr Hino tends to publish in urban planning journals and is not connected to other Japanese surveillance researchers. His work is very interesting and reminiscent of that of Martin Gill or Farrington and Welsh in the UK. It is a shame, that just like those researchers who have carried out analyses of CCTV for the UK Home Office, his assessments tend to be ignored by the government. Dr Hino’s latest project is to assess the trials of a new movement recognition system in Kawasaki city. I hope he can come to the January Camera Surveillance workshop at Queen’s University, Ontario, or the April Surveillance & Society conference in London (details coming soon!).

I also met today with Tajima Yasuhiko, a professor of media law in the School of Journalism at Jochi (Sophia) University in Tokyo. Professor Tajima has been one of the most important critical voices in the debate about surveillance in Japan, and has bridged the academic and activist world, being involved with legal action against juki-net and Google StreetView. We had a productive conversation about the politics of surveillance in Japan and the prospects for critical voices to be heard. He wasn’t optimistic that they would be, and neither am I after our meeting at the Prime Minister’s IT Strategic JQ the other day, however I am also convinved that in many ways Japan has not yet gown as coordinated and centralised a route on issues of security and surveillance as has the UK. There is, so far as I can see, no real attempt to link up things like juki-net or other databases and the anshin anzen (or bohan) machizukuri agenda, and i-Japan, national and local police, and wider community security agendas do not really coordinate at all. This is due to the lack of an obvious ‘threat’ like that of terrorism in the UK, around which such coordination can occur. The government half-heartedly tries to get people worried about North Korea, but really they aren’t, and ‘ageing society’, whilst a phrase used to justify almost anything (including central databases) is a worry, it does not generate the fear that comes with the war on terror.

We also considered the relative weakness of Japanese civil liberties organisations and the failure of the mainstream media to pick up on issues of privacy and surveillance. There seems to be some effort now to try to coordinate various organisations to push for an explicit constitutional protection for privacy (rather than the rather vague inclusion of such an idea in a wider notion of the ‘pursuit of happiness’), but whilst I can see that being happily accepted after the government has got its central database(s), I can’t see it being done in time to alter either this trajectory or the way in which the database(s) are built.

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