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Businesses use workplace surveillance as a way of monitoring the activities of their employees. Today's businesses often use information technology in their operations and communications. Business leaders have concerns related to employee misuse of available technologies. Technology appropriate use policies are being developed by some businesses as a way to protect business interests. These policies define employee use that is appropriate and other uses that are subject to scrutiny. Businesses are also implementing surveillance systems.


Types of workplace surveillance

There are many types of surveillance that could be instituted in the workplace. The most popular form of workplace surveillance is computer surveillance, which is a rapidly growing industry. This is also known as "employee Internet management". Computer surveillance can be broken up into two types: "Internet surveillance", and "desktop surveillance".

  • "Internet surveillance" is the active surveillance of the user’s Internet activities. When users operate a computer on the Internet, a record of the sites that were visited and the operations that were performed by the user can be generated by Internet surveillance software. Also known as spyware, this software is able to track the user’s activities and report it to the administrator. The administrator can then report this to the employer with various techniques.
  • "Desktop surveillance" on the other hand, works by the employer’s computer intercepting a signal that is given off by the employee’s computer. That is done through specific surveillance software that could be remotely or physically installed on the employee's machine.

A similar but different technique involves an employer reading the email traffic sent to and from employees. Generally, if friction arises, the dispute revolves around inappropriate or non-job-related use of email by an employee. As with the telephone, many employers formally or informally permit some amount of personal email. However, inordinate or inappropriate use of a work-related email account, such as soliciting customers for an employee-owned small business, is simply goading the employer into taking action.

Pros and cons of workplace surveillance

Even though much useful software exists, some employers still prefer the traditional methods of surveillance. Methods such as eavesdropping on phone calls, recording the phone calls or even video recording are still being used in all types of businesses.

Workplace surveillance can benefit the employer in many cases, and in some cases it can even have a benefit for the employee. Theft in the workplace is a common reason for workplace surveillance, which can often mean losses to the company, and thus losses to the employer in terms of benefits such as security as well. Most of these negative aspects involve privacy, de-motivation, and stress.

Workplace surveillance can serve as a tool for the employer to illegally gain access to Intellectual Property. New employees are not provided computers to carry out their day to day work in the hope that they will use their personal computers and thus expose any and all information on that computer. If the computer has sensitive information from the previous employer (or if the employee accesses an old email account for some reason or the other), the new employer can use this information without anyone being aware of it.

Whereas workplace surveillance may offer increased safety and security, the resultant ability to keep a close tab on an employees actions often results in performance evaluations based on perception rather than actual results obtained (an employee's religious or other views expressed to coworkers may be used against him or her without his knowledge.) Because there is often limited or no oversight of the employees with access to surveillance footage, employees with such access can act without ascribing their actions to such footage. It is very necessary that an organization have a clearly spelled out surveillance policy, with adequate safeguards in place, especially in educational research institutions where the power equation is heavily tilted in favor of the research advisor.

See also

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