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Employee drug testing is an invasive and controversial new social control policy that burst into the American work place during the war on drugs of the 1980s. Workers, judges, and politicians divided over whether it was an unnecessary and unconstitutional program of surveillance or an effective and appropriate new weapon in the anti-drug arsenal. When the dust had settled, the new technique was widely used and had been strongly approved by the United States Supreme Court. This raises the fundamental question: Why was the momentum behind testing so strong and the opposition to testing so ineffective?
Drawing on theories of ideological hegemony and legal mobilization, John Gilliom begins the search for answers with an examination of how the imagery of a national drug crisis served as the legitimating context for the introduction of testing. Surveillance, Privacy, and the Law then moves beyond the specific history of testing and frames the new policy within a broader transformation of social control policy seen by students of political economy, society, and culture. The book cites survey research among skilled workers and analyzes court opinions to highlight the sharply polarized opinions in the workplaces and courthouses of America. Although federal court decisions show massive and impassioned disagreement among judges, the new conservative Supreme Court comes down squarely behind testing. Its ruling embraces surveillance technology, rejects arguments against testing, and undermines future opposition to policies of general surveillance.
Surveillance, Privacy, and the Law portrays the apparent triumph of testing policies as a victory for the conservative law-and-order movement and a stark loss for the values of privacy and autonomy. As one episode in a broader move toward a surveillance society, the battle over employee drug testing raises disturbing questions about future struggles over revolutionary new means of surveillance and control.
John Gilliom is Professor of Political Science, Ohio University.