Employee surveillance on the company premises and of any company equipment is considered acceptable if certain parameters are followed and it is based on the use of reasonable methods and the need by the company for the information to essentially provide protection and security for company assets. It is also done to confirm that employees are following company policy. A company’s policies about monitoring business communications are explained in detail in all employee handbooks and additionally specified in any union contracts.
Companies do make it clear in advance to their employees that there can be electronic and other monitoring by the company for certain set reasons and in certain areas and this includes areas and actions like cubicles, group meeting rooms, email, internet usage, video links, various forms of call monitoring including headset and phone, keystroke recording, backup copies of any business records including recorded phone calls and voice mails.This extensive list is a fraction of the areas and activities that may be covered by electronic oversight for potential monitoring. Additionally and commonly, a company will make known that any and all company equipment can and may be monitored at anytime even laptops or PDA’s used for out-of-office work. Electronic and other monitoring done by a business on their employees has been found by the courts to a reasonable if there is an existing business security purpose f or the monitoring (Durso, 2010).
However, the extent of electronic monitoring can cross the line. This happens when it becomes more than just securing business assets and becomes a fishing expedition for private details. This has become all the more common because of the latest type of monitoring software that allows for automation into checking for certain keywords or phrases and can be enabled easily and then let run.The most popular brand of software for this level of legal or illegal invasiveness is called “Little Brother” and actually sets a daily rating on employees based on their web surfing habits and qualifies the employee based on a prior list of acceptable websites as “productive or unproductive” in relation to business activities or other uses. E-mails that originate or end at the company’s servers can automatically be set to flag certain words or phrases for further inspection. Where this software crosses the line is that it can be set for more specific software program use, with specific words or phrases as a trigger and then programmed to search out more personal data for each individual user, by doing so it is marking a single employee out for abnormal personal inspection not a company wide security corporate detail (Schulman, 2010). Additionally, video monitoring through a web cam is a standard method of deterring problems and maintaining security at a business but can cross the line if used in non-private areas like bathrooms and locker rooms.
Theft, fraud and following the law are applicable reasons for companies to pursue electronic monitoring at many levels with their own equipment (Saltzman, 2010). Businesses have a right to protect themselves from liability and have the help of some existing US laws. In addition, legal compliance with the US Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act makes monitoring for data security a necessity. Federal data security statutes and the Safeguards Rule of the FTC has certain standards that must be followed, these relate to technical, administrative and physical security of a customer’s records (Wakefield, 2004). It is the responsibility of all businesses to safeguard client information against threats from everyone both inside and outside of the business (Durso, 2010). Wakefield (2004) writes that these rules include “maintaining security and confidentiality of a client records, maintain the integrity of these company records from the internal and external people who may have authorized or unauthorized access to the records and protect against unauthorized access that can result in harm”.
The right to an individual citizen’s privacy is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s fourth amendment (it’s about search and seizure) but do not apply to the work-related environment. Not only have the courts found it legal for a company to actively electronically monitor their employees but it was reported by University Professor of Law Dorothy Glancy that employee complaints about invasion of privacy tend to go against the employee in court (Schulman, 2010). Generally it is the expectation of privacy that is not upheld by the courts because of the logic of the situation: the employee is using a computer system that is owned by the company, often is located on company premises, is using company software and the company has informed the employee in advance about the monitoring policies and activities relating to the organization’s surveillance.
It is prudent for a company to use a reasonable level of electronic monitoring to protect their assets. A company needs to have preset standards and rules clarifying the extent of the electronic monitoring a company will authorize when using surveillance methods on employees. This regulation structure will guide the IT department (or whoever is authorized to do so) to prevent the accidental overstepping of legal boundaries. Because of human nature and the tendency of individuals to satisfy their curiosity, electronic monitoring procedures should be carefully well-defined as to who, what, where, why and to what degree for any and all employee monitoring and when possible multiple individuals should be given cross checking responsibility to monitor the monitors (if the company is large enough to allow this). The security policies relating to electronic surveillance must be clearly set forth in writing and all protocols followed. The ethics and integrity of the company can be upheld by utilizing these proper protocols to safeguard and maintain company and customer assets.
Durso, J. (2010). Ask the legal expert: monitoring employees’ computer use at work. Retrieved from http://www.mcknights.com/ask-the-legal-expert-monitoring-employees-computer-use-at-work.htm
Saltzman, M, (2010). Should You Monitor Employee E-Mail? Retrieved from http://technology.inc.com/managing/articles/200610/emailmonitoring.html
Schulman, M. (2010). Little Brother is watching you. Retrieved from http://ww.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v9n2/brother.html
Wakefield, R. (2004). Employee Monitoring and Surveillance -The Growing Trend. Retrieved From http://www.isaca .org/Journal/Past-Issues/2004/Volume-1/Pages/Employee-Monitoring-and-Surveillance-The-Grfrom