Surveillance in the workplace

SAN FRANCISCO, USA

In a panel entitled “The bosses’ use of technology, outsourcing and worker’s resistance”, in the currently ongoing LaborTech conference in beautiful San Francisco, labour educator Nancy Bupp talked about workplace surveillance in the US.
In a panel entitled “The bosses’ use of technology, outsourcing and worker’s resistance”, in the currently ongoing LaborTech conference in beautiful San Francisco, labour educator Nancy Bupp talked about workplace surveillance in the US.

She insisted on the difficulty in getting management and bosses to limit the increasing surveillance of employees. “There are almost no laws, only at the state level are there several but you need to prove out of any doubt, that peoples’ privacy is at risk in a given context.”

This statement comes at a time where corporate America is using more and more advanced technology to monitor the work but also movements of their employees and contracted personnel. Radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) and cameras are being implemented in many workspaces to watch over the employee’s shoulder in the bathroom, in changing rooms and the like.

Nancy Bupp also submitted a draft paper on workplace surveillance to the audience of about 50 organised labour communicators and activists. Among other, it tells the story of Websense Inc., a corporation making money with web filtering desktop security software, another piece of technology used to see and control peoples’ use of the Fuente: TechSoup Glossary y GenderIT.org ">internet

and software in general.

Interestingly, this panel in APC-member LaborNet’s co-organised event, LaborNet, makes reference to APC’s Internet Rights Charter. Article 5.2 on the right to freedom from surveillance says that “People should be able to communicate free of the threat of surveillance and interception.” This is in direct link to the work of Nancy Gupp on surveillance of internet activities of employees in the online workspace.

Of course, the issues discussed in this forum go way beyond the online world and deeply into the offline work atmosphere. But it is good to be able to see how it blends in with the work APC is doing, which is traditionally not taking up labour as a central theme. The question here, is how trade unions and labour groups on their side, could better use APC’s valuable work in their daily online communications.

What is being said again and again in LaborTech, is that trade unions are not up-to-speed with internet technology. The reasons for this are multiple, including an inward looking and too often bureaucratic culture  - as Sid Shniad of the Telecommunications Workers Union of British Columbia eloquently said this morning -, a deeply-rooted technophobic understanding of communications and an aging staff (as said by a Dutch delegate here). But that hardly explains it all.

How can APC and international labour collaborate better on the surveillance issue, and what APC calls article 5.2? How does APC take this issue to another level, from the charter to international regulation?

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