In class the other night, one of the guest speakers spoke at length about IT security. For me, this immediately brought to mind my blog entry where I spoke about IT decreasing privacy
. I specifically referenced the story about the high school where school officials were spying on the students with webcams, and Jeff (the guest speaker) made a very interesting point about how although the particular situation in question was clearly an invasion of privacy, that regardless, everyone should assume that what they do with their work computers can and will be monitored by their workplace.
I think this issue is really fascinating, because my own first inclination is towards privacy, individualism, and autonomy. Despite this, there are some really obvious reasons why a company would benefit from keeping tabs on what its employees are doing. Specifically, it brought to mind this post from the Evil HR Lady
. As she says, "Porn viewing in the office can definitely lead to sexual harassment cases and the owner is putting his business at risk by doing so." I would imagine that porn isn't the only thing that companies would have an interest in protecting themselves from. Employees could be sharing proprietary or confidential information on the internet, which can seriously damage a company. Emails and IMs could be exchanged between employees that may later need to be retrieved and/or verified for legal reasons. Jeff definitely seemed to take this perspective as well, and brought up all of these issues.
His comment that employees should assume that they are being monitored struck a nerve with me, however. It wasn't until I read an article by writer Cory Doctorow reporting and commenting on a second case of a school spying via webcam
that I understood my discomfort with the issue. He makes the following comment:
I had great teachers, and I trusted them and confided in them and they taught me well. But if they had had this degree of oversight into my every personal detail, I think it would have killed any intellectual curiosity, any trust, any real learning.
Later, he expands in some of the comments to the article:
On that subject, I'll make some more predictions:
* If anything I did in my life today was subject to that level of control, I would not do it
* No teacher or administrator would be able to do her job under that level of surveillance and control
* You couldn't do your job properly under that level of control
I think the key word he brings up is 'trust'. If employees do not feel as though they are trusted (and, therefore, respected), will they be doing the best job they can do?
Clearly there is a need for some monitoring of employee behavior... but where should that line be drawn?
Posted by on Sun, 7 Mar 2010