Employee Surveillance: Business Efficiency Vs. Worker Privacy

by Thomas Claburn, Information Week

walking smartphone aps illustration

geralt / Pixabay

Supervision of employees used to have limits. Managers simply couldn’t watch every employee all the time.

That’s no longer true today. As discussed in a draft of a forthcoming California Law Review paper, technology enables pervasive and invasive monitoring. And as dispersed workforces become more common, there’s more incentive to rely on technology as an alternative to face-to-face interaction with managers.

“Now, with the advent of almost ubiquitous network records, browser history retention, phone apps, electronic sensors, wearable fitness trackers, thermal sensors, and facial recognition systems, there truly could be limitless worker surveillance,” the paper says.

Companies have a right and an obligation to operate efficiently. Some oversight of employees is undoubtedly necessary. But as legal scholars Ifeoma Ajunwa, Kate Crawford, and Jason Schultz argue in “Limitless Worker Surveillance,” unrestrained surveillance raises privacy and discrimination concerns.

Sometimes it’s easy to see when workplace surveillance goes too far. The paper cites the outrage that followed at The Daily Telegraph in the UK when workers discovered “OccupEye” sensors that had been placed under desks to track worker attendance under the pretense of gathering energy efficiency data. The outcry ultimately ended the project.

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