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How far will workplace monitoring go?


Most of the headlines surrounding last week’s launch of a public debate on the surveillance society concentrated on CCTV cameras.

But the report launched by the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas also included the implications for the workplace.

The authors of the report – ‘A Surveillance Society’ – point out that workplace monitoring of telephone calls, email and internet usage already takes place.

According to the report summary, RFID chips are being used for border management and tracking animals but in the US two employees have been chipped with RFID for workplace access control.

The report summary says: “All of today’s surveillance processes and practices bespeak a world where we know we’re not really trusted.

“Surveillance fosters suspicion. The employer who installs keystroke monitors at workstations, or GPS devices in service vehicles is saying that they do not trust their employees.”

And projections for the year 2016 seem to indicate that further surveillance is likely. The report authors suggest that employees will be subject to biometric and psychometric tests plus lifestyle profiles with diagnostic health tests common place.

Jobs are likely to be refused to those who are seen as a health risk or don’t submit to the tests. Meanwhile, staff benefit packages could be drawn up depending upon any perceived future health problems that may affect their productivity.

Richard Thomas said: “Two years ago I warned that we were in danger of sleepwalking into a surveillance society.

“Today I fear that we are in fact waking up to a surveillance society that is already all around us.

“Surveillance activities can be well-intentioned and bring benefits. They may be necessary or desirable – for example to fight terrorism and serious crime, to improve entitlement and access to public and private services, and to improve healthcare.

“But unseen, uncontrolled or excessive surveillance can foster a climate of suspicion and undermine trust.

“As ever-more information is collected, shared and used, it intrudes into our private
space and leads to decisions which directly influence people’s lives.

“Mistakes can also easily be made with serious consequences – false matches and other cases of mistaken identity, inaccurate facts or inferences, suspicions taken as reality, and breaches of security.

“I am keen to start a debate about where the lines should be drawn. What is acceptable and what is not?”

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