Electronic Surveillance in the Workplace

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Electronic surveillance in the workplace

Electronic Surveillance in the Workplace:
Concerns for Employees and Challenges for Privacy Advocates

Anna Johnston and Myra Cheng

Paper delivered 28 November 2002 International Conference on Personal Data Protection
Hosted by Personal Information Dispute Mediation Committee, Korea Information Security Agency
Seoul, Korea

Ms Anna Johnston is the NSW Deputy Privacy Commissioner. Ms Myra Cheng is a Research & Policy Officer with Privacy NSW, the Office of the NSW Privacy Commissioner. The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Dr Ben Searle, Macquarie University, in providing an overview of the relevant literature from the field of organisational psychology.
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Ibid, at xii.

This paper focuses on the use of electronic surveillance technologies, and the conflict arising from the rapid adoption of such technologies in the workplace. Part 1 provides an overview of the development of workplace surveillance practices and the ethical and legal challenges they present for society. Part 2 discusses the arguments put forward by privacy advocates and the concerns they raise regarding electronic performance monitoring in particular. Part 3 analyses two industrial conflicts which have critically shaped the debate regarding the regulation of workplace surveillance. This paper concludes with an argument that electronic monitoring and surveillance should not remain a managerial prerogative, and that employee participation and government intervention is crucial in determining the appropriate balance to be struck between employees’ expectations of privacy and employers’ legitimate interests in undertaking workplace surveillance.

I. Electronic Surveillance in the Workplace: An Overview

Today almost all jobs have the potential to be subjected to some type of electronic surveillance. Some jobs more than others are particularly susceptible to monitoring practices. Above n 4, at 6. These can range from the office worker whose supervisor reads his or her e-mail messages to the grocery store cashier
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