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Employee Monitoring: Justifiable Security Measure or Overly Orwellian?

Topics: Current Events

Remember that time you worked yourself into a hypochondriac frenzy, and wound up spending the whole afternoon at the office surfing WebMD and trying to figure out if people get cholera anymore? As it turns out, Bill the IT guy — or even your CEO — may have been assessing your risks at the same time in a very different way for very different reasons.

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(Photo Credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy/Flickr)

According to Bloomberg Business, a minimum of 20 US-based companies now market employee behavior-monitoring tools, services, and software designed expressly for the purpose of alerting employers to possible security threats by way of identifying potentially risky online behavior from their workers. How? By monitoring employees’ database usage, e-mail habits, and website browsing activity, to name just few. 

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Some firms even offer software that analyzes employees’ online behavior from both a functional and/or psychological perspective; signals for high-risk behavior can come in the form of anything from sending an above average number of files to a personal e-mail account, to e-mailing or Googling language that suggests financial hardships, such as “late rent” or “medical bills,” according to Bloomberg and the digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg.

While the increasing sophistication of hacking capabilities, the vulnerability of companies’ data infrastructures since the advent of the internet, and the wide-open access that employees have to said data are all undeniable causes for concern, at what point does a company’s security breach prevention efforts go from prudent security measure to a blatant attack on employee privacy?  

“Both employers and employees are concerned with the ethical implications of constant monitoring,” noted a recent report on the ethics of employee surveillance from the Journal of Applied of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University. 

The only definitive answer is that the there isn’t one, and the line’s blurriness is a subject ripe for debate. One thing that is clear: employees should be aware of what they’re searching, writing, and logging into online while at work; you never know who might be watching. 

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Have you an experience, good or bad, involving employee surveillance? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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