Workplace Surveillance (Watching, Listening, Squealing)

So, it’s gettin’ ready to blow
It’s gettin’ ready to show
Somebody shot off at the mouth and
We’re gettin’ ready to know

They’re gettin’ ready to deal
You’re gettin’ ready to ill
Somebody done just dropped the big dime
And they’re gettin’ ready to squeal

You’re gettin’ ready to lie
They’re gettin’ ready to spy
Somebody’s been put on the hot seat
And you’re gettin’ ready to fry

Lyrics from Skeletons, by Stevie Wonder from the 1987 album Characters.
Webcam monitoring, recording-Big Brother watchingTrending in the news is the issue of our government watching our every move and monitoring personal conversations – courtesy of the National Security Agency (NSA), at least as reported by a man named Edward Snowden. The same may also be happening by the FBI, CIA, and god-only knows who-else! Perhaps your neighbor might be willing to report things about YOU for thirty pieces of silver paid by some law-enforcement agency, your government or even your employer. Considering what some people will do for money, one never knows whom to trust!

A Facebook group user posted concerns that her employer had installed surveillance devices in the workplace. Those concerns prompted me to write this article about such equipment at places of employment.

George Orwell-Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)Let me preface by taking readers back to my high school days in the late 1970’s. In high school, we were required to read the classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (pub. 1949) written by Eric Arthur Blair, under his better known pen name, George Orwell. Many people have said that the world, not just America, seems to be quickly heading towards the kind of society described in Orwell’s book – often referred to as an Orwellian society, or perhaps towards a Huxleyan society, named for that society envisioned by author Aldous Huxley in his book, Brave New World (pub. 1932). Aldous Huxley-Brave New World (1932)All this talk about “the age of Big Brother”, “being watched and reported on” and having certain freedoms monitored and/or restricted is nothing new – certainly not to me or those who have read Nineteen Eighty-Four and/or Brave New World. Both Orwell’s and Huxley’s book are reads I’d recommend; each will make you shake your head in agreement and astonishment as you read passages of events fantasized, if not predicted decades ago that seem very familiar to things seen happening in your lifetime.

This issue of surveillance or eavesdropping and monitoring devices has always had it’s a pros and cons, particularly when it comes to places of employment. Typically, these pros and cons usually are:

  • PROS – surveillance devices can and do protect the employer, employees and clients/customers of that business, particularly in legal and insurance matters.
  • CONS – many employees, business clients and customers feel uncomfortable with the knowledge of being monitored or may feel that their privacy is being invaded.

CCTV Surveillance CamerasIt needs to be clearly understood that in any place of employment or business privacy may be practically nonexistent except at the pleasure of the employer/business owner and within the confines of the law. Examples would be a private meeting held behind closed doors or in company restrooms.
(S/N CAUTION: Never assume that restrooms are “off-limits” from spy devices. You may come to regret it!)
There might be laws protecting conversations held on an employee’s private or personal cell phone (check the laws of your state) but I advise one to be aware of the possibility that there may be laws which support an employer monitoring any cell phone conversation and/or text messages conducted on company premises. Of course, if that cell phone is company-owned it is very likely that conversations and/or text messages on such devices can be tapped and monitored by the company.

Surveillance systemEveryone should know by now that any computer/computer-like device – e.g. iPad, smart phone – whether it’s company-owned or personal, especially if it accesses the company’s internet system (either by direct connection or WiFi) and/or is used on company premises, is subject to monitoring. One can be disciplined or terminated for going on websites like Facebook, Twitter or any social media for personal reasons while on company time unless that access/time is related to company business, such as updating company information to other employees, clients or customers.

Surveillance devicesThe operating and security budget, as well as the insurance requirement criteria of an employer/business often determines the quality (as in, highly sophisticated technology) of surveillance devices to be installed on the premises.  This can include surveillance devices in company vehicles, since such are considered mobile units or “extensions” of the company. Never assume that you will have any sort of privacy in the company vehicle.  The operating/security budget also determines the quantity of said devices – as in how many to be installed, the location on the premises and who or what system monitors, collects and perhaps possibly stores and/or archives the received data.

Company's  IT Dept watching youIn any work environment one needs to be cautious of what one says and does – not just with the possibility of eavesdropping and monitoring devices being present but with whom one talks to. Not everyone to whom you pitch a job-related gripe or share some personal issue is a loyal confidant! Be mindful of the possible listening ability or eavesdropping skills of nearby co-workers and staff! The economy of today and over the last decade or more, have forced many employers to look for reasons to terminate people for cause, primarily for the reasons of simply improving business and profits.Co-worker or supervisor/boss eavesdropping This means rooting out non-loyal, lackadaisical or downright bad employees as well as getting rid of bad clients/customers. Surveillance devices and human spies are simply a means to that end. As “worker bees”, we often need to remind ourselves of this fact. No one should ever feel that they are non-expendable, regardless of how much one might know about his/her job or the length of time he/she has spent working at said job.
S/N: One of the reasons I hate “right to work” states like Michigan is because any employer, in the effort of saving money, can fire an otherwise good employee simply for “cause” and that good employee has little to no recourse.

Check it: Unless the employer is breaking some local, state or federal law, they are normally within their legal right to install surveillance devices on company premises and vehicles. My advice is to be cautious of what you say and do – and to whom – while on the job. If surveillance devices make you uncomfortable, either try to ignore them or leave the job.

Keepin’ It …REAL!

3 thoughts on “Workplace Surveillance (Watching, Listening, Squealing)

  1. Great job, my friend, on highlighting aspects of an issue that’s probably with us, in one form or another, for a very long time. “National security” in the case of government and “quality assurance” in the case of employment are the current phrases used to justify monitoring of daily activities of citizens and employees. Right or wrong, these practices are common and aren’t disappearing anytime soon, if ever.

    My personal attitude is to keep work discussions on a strictly professional level, except on an absolute “need-to-know” level (i.e. family emergency, vacation, etc. conversation with supervisor and subordinates). My business is mine and has no place in conversations with coworkers and on “company time.” More importantly, the office “grapevine” is ripe for gossip and innuendo. My coworkers are NOT my personal friends and therefore, there is no expectation of confidentiality.

    As to social media, it’s just what the name implies. social. My life details aren’t available for public scrutiny. If it isn’t a proper topic for me to share with my grandmother, then it’s best shared in a private space and moment.

    A very relevant and timely post, buddy! Take care and stay bare!

    • Thanks again for commenting, Roger! Your comments on this issue are right on point! As I wrote this article, I had to remind myself to shut the fuck up to certain people I work with. It’s much too easy for one to get sucked into sharing common or shared gripes and fuckstrations with other disgruntled co-workers. None of my co-workers, no matter how kool we may be on the job, are my actual friends. We don’t visit each other, hang out or get silly over booze, BBQ, guy talk and the like. I need to remember to keep my words to co-workers on a strictly professional basis! Sure, they can talk to me – and sometimes I’ll listen, but I never need to share with them any of my fuckstrations – professional or otherwise…especially if there may be eavesdropping and monitoring devices planted nearby! That’s not paranoia, that’s simply using good sense in this day and age.

      • So true about caution in this day and time, Rob! Again, thanks for reminding us all to censor our words in the workplace!

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