School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Midori Ogasawara

Ph.D candidate, Sociology

Midori Ogasawara

Guest Lecture: A guest lecture in the undergraduate course of Social Psychology at Queen's University on January, 2015. Ogasawara spoke about Japan's national ID systems, and how they constructed people's collective identities. Photo by Robyn Saaltink.

Identifying the pasts and futures of national ID systems

by Sharday Mosurinjohn
February 2015

Midori Ogasawara traded one job that never sleeps for another. Once a reporter for Japan's national newspaper, Asahi Shimbun (1994-2004), where she used to work 15-hour days following surveillance and human rights issues, Ogasawara is now an asset to Queen’s Department of Sociology, where she is earning her PhD researching issues that stemmed from that investigative work.

Ogasawara recounts that in 2002 Japan instituted a personal ID system (“Juki-Net”) which used an 11-digit number to link all sorts of data about citizens, and, unsurprisingly, people were outraged. “Many people tore up the mailed notices of their numbers or gave them right back to City Hall.” Ogasawara’s MA thesis was about how Japan’s modern ID systems, including Juki-Net, have worked as means of surveillance by the state over the people, adding to the impact her journalism already had on increasing public scrutiny of the system.

Yet in 2015, an updated system – potentially using more sophisticated biometrics and still based military techniques that had been used to control the colonized “Manchurian” population in the 1920s – has been met with comparatively little resistance. “People are less aware now,” Ogasawara conjectures. Her PhD research will help change that.

Ogasawara’s newest project, aided by a prestigious Vanier Scholarship, triangulates a relationship between colonialism, neoliberalism, and surveillance. She traces the way Japan has used national ID systems to “sort” different kinds of people, marking colonized and foreign subjects, especially. In this way, they are left “directly exposed to the sovereign power,” including for economic exploitation, but “without legal protection normally guaranteed for individuals.”

As she explains, these systems tend to seed in times of war and danger (recently, in the context of 9/11 and its aftershocks), but go on to bloom when it is economically expedient in an age of global competition. It is essential now to expose this history (“most Japanese still don’t know the war crimes that happened under these periods of military control”) and to detail the subtle, ubiquitous ways that surveillance technologies are playing out in contemporary society.

In Ogasawara’s words, surveillance technologies are not an “exception of modernity” or a “misuse of western technology in the ‘far-east,’” but “one of the main results” and we must have an ethics for them that protects “the most vulnerable person” and “accordingly helps all of us to live.”

Midori Ogasawara with supervisor Dr David Lyon

Yokohama Lecture: Dr. David Lyon's public lecture on "Surveillance after Snowden", held in Yokohama, Japan, on July, 2014. As an organizer of the event and Lyon's translator, Ogasawara explains the proceedings to Lyon at the beginning of the event. Photo by Ken Mizokoshi.

The way Ogasawara came to be doing this work at Queen’s similarly has roots in her journalism career. In 2002, when Ogasawara was researching how the national ID data was being used by the state and by companies, she got to know the Japanese translation of a work by her now-supervisor Dr. David Lyon, called Surveillance Society: Monitoring in Everyday Life. Interested, she contacted him, and wound up helping him on a project about how privacy was understood in eight different countries. A precise reader with facility in both English and Japanese, Ogasawara also became a translator of others of Lyons’ works. In Japan, she successfully organized an academic network among scholars, and eventually came to be part of the group – the Surveillance Studies Centre – at the heart of the field first organized by Lyons himself, as an MA and then as a PhD student.

That journey has been punctuated by major research trips, including to China, a Fulbright and a Knight Fellowship taken up at Stanford, the transformation of her MA work into a book, the birth of her son, and the publication of three other books, one of which is a children's picture storybook, Princess Sunflower, which is based on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The latter book is emblematic of a commitment of Ogasawara’s that has persisted alongside her research into identification and surveillance: women’s rights and the feminist analysis of major historical events. Ogasawara’s background is actually originally in law. Though she never practiced, her education in family law at Waseda University in Tokyo opened her to systemic issues of misogyny that had always prickled her conscience.

She remembers hearing, as an undergraduate, a few brave victims of the Japanese government’s war crimes come forward and declare what had happened to them as “comfort women” abducted to military camps in WWII. In this institutionalized form of slavery, Korean, Chinese and other women were raped over and over, used as sources of sexual “comfort” to the male soldiers. When the Japanese government responded by denying its involvement in such crimes, Ogasawara was galvanized.

“I was shocked. I wanted to listen to these people.” She traveled extensively to do so, meeting many women with PTSD and, through her reporting, helping to shed light on these hidden parts of their lives and of the nation’s history. The difficulty of this project was compounded by cultural traditions that set complicated boundaries around women’s expression of non-consent and stigmatize rape survivors. “It changed my life,” says Ogasawara. “Their testimony was incredibly powerful. I felt they passed us a baton to end the violence against women in battlefields.”

Today, Ogasawara continues the various veins of her research from the Surveillance Studies Centre, braced for the challenges that will come with Japan’s new conservative and historical revisionist government. Her concern remains writing for peace and democracy, in a way that we won’t forget.