Stephen Baker

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Workplace surveillance: Get used to it

December 15, 2009Privacy

Am I getting jaded? I read this case on GigaOm and Mashable about a case in which a local government claims the right to monitor messages on a government-issued pager. My first reaction: If you're sending digital messages on machinery issued by an employer, assume that they'll be monitored.

Further, even if the Supreme Court reviews this case and rules for the privacy of the individual, continue to assume that employers will monitor this information. It's simply too valuable to ignore.

Look at it this way. Companies are busy defending themselves and their networks. They're sifting through emails looking for spam, leaks of insider information, and signs of sexual harassment. Google's Postini unit does this type of analysis. What's more, for compliance with federal laws and security regulations, companies must archive communications. And they can be sued if signs of malfeasance are coursing through their networks unnoticed.

So they're supposed to carry out all of this analysis and then turn a blind eye to allegedly sexually explicit messages sent from a company-issued machine? It's not going to happen. We're under all kinds of questionable surveillance in the rest of our lives. Companies like Acxiom and LexisNexis maintain dossiers on us. Government techno-spies have been analyzing e-mail, Web surfing and phone communications since 9/11.

But surveillance in the work place? In my view, that comes with the job. As I say, maybe I'm jaded.

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