ITGS Syllabus

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Topic 130

Ethical considerations relating to workplace monitoring by Oliver

In order to ensure that the employees are being productive at the office, many corporations have taken up the practice of workplace monitoring, the act of eavesdropping in on telephones, internet activity, voice mail, etc. to ensure that their employees are fooling around at work.

According to, surveys have revealed the office place monitoring has become an increasingly popular procedure. A survey from the American Management Association reveals that 75% of employers monitor their employee’s internet activity, 65% of employers block ‘inappropriate’ web sites, over 50% of employers read employee e-mails, and 33% of employers keep track of keystrokes made by their employees. Out of all the negative statistics, the survey also revealed some positive news, reporting that 80% of the employers inform their employees that they are monitoring them.

The practice of workplace monitoring is generally unregulated. Some laws grant the employers rights to do monitor their underlings, and there a few precedent cases that usually resulted on the judge favoring the employer over the employee in a legal battle for privacy at the workplace.

This practice obviously raises some important ethical issues. For one, you seemingly abandon any constitutional rights you have by stepping into an office. Nothing you say can be taken as private. Don’t be surprised if employers are placing bugs by the water cooler. It’s hard to say how much personal information you give away to the company by working for them, besides any personal information that you have already voluntarily given them.

A lot of the monitoring that is being done is carried out by software. It is definitely a possibility for this software to be compromised by a computer expert or hacker. This hacker could then obtain all the personal information that the company ever gathered about you and use it in ways that would harm you.

Also, consider the people who have easy access to the personal data being gathered about you? Do you trust them not to abuse that information? Do you trust them not to blackmail you with your secrets into putting a couple more hours of overtime for the company?

There are no real solutions to this ethical issue, but awareness of workplace monitoring is a good step. For those who get a job at an office, don’t play Solitaire or go to Yahoo Pool on your work computer (play it through a proxy on your laptop instead). Whenever you call your parents or friends at work, watch what you say and don’t put your office working friend in a difficult position (in other words, don’t invite them to do something illegal on their work phone.) Try and keep a cell phone around, and have your friends make personal calls through your cell phone instead. Until workplace monitoring becomes illegal, waste your time in a careful manner.


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