A Growing Trend: Systematic Surveillance

The growing number of employers who are monitoring their employees' activities is a result of the low cost of the monitoring technology, a growing percentage of employees using their computers for personal use and an increase in employees leaking sensitive company information. Employers are also watching their workers to avoid sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits that stem from inappropriate and offensive e-mails circulating within a company.

Instead of monitoring those employees who exhibit suspicious behavior, many em­ployers are instituting "continuous, systematic surveillance" in the workplace, according to a Privacy Foundation study written by Andrew Schulman. Reports of companies firing workers for misusing workplace computers are becoming more common as an increasing number of employers implement electronic monitoring software.

Computers leave behind a trail of bread crumbs that can provide employers with all the information they could possibly need about an employee's computer-related activities. For employers, computers are the ultimate spy. There's little that can stop an employer from using these surveillance techniques.

There are basically five methods that employers can use to track employee activities:

  • Packet sniffers
  • Log files
  • Desktop monitoring programs
  • Phones
  • Closed-circuit cameras

Computer-monitoring programs carry such names as Shadow, SpyAgent, Web Sleuth and Silent Watch. The prices of these programs range from as little as $30 to thousands of dollars. The number of employers who believe that they need these programs and the relatively low cost has resulted in an emerging multi-million dollar industry called employee Internet management.

Let's examine some of the Internet surveillance technology and how it's used.