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Privacy in the Workplace

To some extent, small and large businesses have to invest in workplace privacy and information. The seriousness, with which the management of the businesses secures their confidential information such as client and employees’ personal information, largely depends on:

a)    The business interest

b)    The environment in which they function and must act in accordance with

c)    The desire for the standard business practices.

Self interests comprise of trade secrets. If trade secrets are stolen, they can provide a competitive advantage to similar businesses and either ends their trading practices. Further, such can affect the expansion and growth aspirations of a business. Therefore, the concerned stakeholders must protect their businesses confidential information at any cost or they will be beaten out of business. Most of time, business organizations spy on each other for valuable trading secrets which may help them gain competitive advantage. Such information maybe related to a launch of a new product, services, or improvement of existing processes so as to increase client base, efficiency and productivity.

Every business organization must determine what trading information is of a high value to them and put around it various security controls so as to ensure their business feasibility and expansion. Self-interest extends to areas such as finance fraud and to a lesser extent, management commitment to work place information privacy. This is because some high level members of the management maybe more conscious to information security than others, maybe because of their experiences and professions, and therefore have a high regard for the privacy of workplace information.


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Some businesses such as health care companies and financial institutions have been under government scrutiny for many years and continue to be under heavy government regulations because of the nature of their operations and the industries in which they operate. Such organizations spend a lot on keeping up and complying with the various regulations. Due to various sorts of business scandals, and loss of public confidence, governments prevent various cooperate financial disasters, some that interfere with people’s retirement accounts, or various private information leakages that may lead to identity fraud and mass identity theft. To some extent, such government regulations help to improve organizational security controls by raising awareness, authority, visibility and oversight. This ensures integrity and confidentiality regarding the availability of personal and financial data.

Having a secured privacy at the work place makes good business sense and not only can a business organization save money that has been spent on various investigations, consumer notification, recovery of misplaced data and public relations, but can also build consumer confidence (FirozNadeem 77). It makes business sense secure various online transactions and protect businesses and clients’ private information at the same time. Consumers are reluctant to transact online as various instances of data leaks continue to emerge, but would trust online transactions if businesses are able to boost their confidence through their actions.

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Privacy in the Workplace

Companies provide comprehensive access of the internet to employees so as to enhance productivity. Access to the internet enables quick and efficient communication. The internet has become a pervasive presence in most of workplaces in the world. A good number of employees in medium and large companies can access the internet. Technological advancements are strategic alignments for businesses to advance their competitive edge. As far as technological advancements are concerned, internet is one of the most needed technological advancement for businesses. However, the versatility of internet application in the workplace is hampered by how workers behave on its usage. This places managers of various organizations at an awkward situation as they adapt to technological advancements at the work place. Internet, as a major tool of socializing, it’s prone to misuse and abuse by employees’ of a business organization. When a new technology is introduced at the work place, employees are very eager to have the new technology installed. With zeal, they wait the new advancements.

Internet connection at the work place is one of the digital edge facilities that have assumed a different dimension in how it’s employed at the work place. As much as the internet usage importance thrives, its use is surrounded by various moral loopholes that need to be taken care of. In essence, the technological advancement that is supposed to benefit a business organization may turn out to be disparaging employees work initiative. Internet facilitates communication with other people all over the world. The greatest merit of the internet is its ability to link people all over the world with b order-less access to information. This also happens to be one of the greatest threats to internet use. Once one is logged into websites, one gets into a virtual contact world. With so much ease, the internet comes with emotions, fee lings, mind-sets and attention of audience in a great way that totally destructs a real person’s presence at the point where he/she uses the internet. The mental status of an employee is carried away from their positions of work.

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Internet in a business organization is important as it enhances a communication system in and out of the organization. Exchange of information among employees’ net work is enhanced. This can be reflected by the way problems are solved, how important news is easily distributed to workers and the way tasks are easily delegated. Of importance also is how the internet makes access to research materials and information easy. Employees can access information via internet right from the office desk. On the part of management, it is easy to conduct a product survey, corporate research, product research in a convenient, accurate and efficient manner. The list of internet use is long as the need of it grows with the need of a business organization to grow.

On the other hand, internet at the work place can be abused if management does not put in place various ethical guidelines to govern the employment of internet as a tool of communication. Employees can be tempted to use internet for personal issues in a case where there is no limit to information that can be accessed. There is a lot of fun and recreation on the internet and when employees start using it for the two, they fail to comprehend that they are undertaking on a wrong thing and wasting time. It is for this reason that electronic surveillance of how employees are using internet has become a common way of addressing misconduct of employees and unauthorized access to information.

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Electronic surveillance is defined as the use of computerized systems to automatically collect, store, analyze, and report information regarding behaviors of employees. Apart from using the internet, mostly the World Wide Web and email for business purposes, employees also go to the internet for personal issue (FirozNadeem 75). They either send personal email messages, downloading videos, playing games, checking stock prices, gambling or ordering goods. As almost everything ranging from CD’s to vehicles are sold on the web, employees spend working time shopping online. It is for this reason that most employers in the contemporary world of business use electronic surveillance to monitor internet use and block access to certain websites. This came up as a result of many issues arising at the work place involving workers email and internet usage. Employees with access to the internet spend many hours weekly sending personal email messages or accessing information that is not in any way related to their work. Popular entertainment websites visited by employees include the ESPN's Sport Zone. Here, visitors are able to check sport scores, while at the Sony Corporation’s website, they can play Jeopardy. In addition, employers are also grappling with the issue of whether to limit their employees’ access to the internet and email use when they are not on duty and out of workplace premises. This may apply in a case where employee’s use of the internet taints the reputation of his/her employer, for instance where an employees personal website has an embarrassing reference to an employer. This is as a result of employer’s dilemma as to how much control they can have over employees’ communications on the internet considering the fact that the computer equipment used at that time is at the employees’ home.

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As the use of internet at the workplace goes up, there are likely to be many disputes related to the internet usage. Such disputes may comprise of those related to employee relations, freedom of speech, privacy, re cord keeping issues, and intellectual property. Most of disputes related to the use of internet will be resolved in accordance to the employment law and traditional labor. On the other hand, because of uncertainties, and conflicting opinions about internet usage at the work place, workplace disputes have intensified. The internet also raises many questions. For instance those related to the elimination of boundaries by technology. For instance, boundaries have been eliminated between workplaces and homes also between state and national boundaries. As a result of this, resolution of internet based disputes often calls for application of statutes and case law that addresses electronic issues in specific. To avoid such complications, business managers have employed the electronic surveillance of internet access and usage. With this, they have been able to block access to some websites and monitor employee behavior on the internet.

Electronic surveillance is usually done in a surreptitious manner. Electronic surveillance is commonly used in the United States of America as compared to other places in the world. According to various recent surveys, over a third of employers monitor their employees’ activities on the internet. Mostly, employees monitor their employees’ email and internet use. In a 1997 PC world survey, about two-thirds respondent workers highlighted that their employers have the rights to monitor their internet usage at the work place as long as they are informed about it be forehand. The same survey revealed that 20% of employers in the United States had disciplined employees for inappropriate use of internet by suspending their use of the internet or by discharging them (Martin, supra note 15).

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Putting into consideration the various surveillance capabilities enabled by new technologies, some seem more controversial than others. Email surveillance, employee tracking and internet monitoring are some of the most prevalent surveillance technologies. Also, lack of prior knowledge of the surveillance is unfair to employees.

E-mail surveillance.

Email communications are the most common means of communication in the business world today. In their efforts to ensure high levels of productivity, employers screen employees email so as to protect the assets of their companies. According to Friedman, employers will screen their employees to protect their own interests and those of other business stakeholders. However, this amounts to Violations of Informational and Interactional Privacy (Friedman, 2007).

Tracking Employees:

This is the putting together of personal information through various portable means. This surveillance technology is becoming more popular with various government organizations and businesses. Examples of tracking devices include radio frequency identification tags (RFID), identification cards and smart cards. This type of monitoring enables the manager or the employer to know how much time an employee spends at the break room, bathroom, or at their desk. With such standards, poorly performing workers can be warned, the problem solved or he/she can be fired. Another example of employee tracking is the use of smart cards in their cell phones. This technology will always give a location of an employee at all times. This is commonly useful for organizing employees outside the office (Jonson and Paine, vol. 32, pp. 334).

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Secretly Monitoring Employees:

Employees spend most of their time conducting personal business. This is mostly done by remote desktop viewing. A snapshot of every desktop is taken at set intervals of time. This allows the managers or the employers to see visually what their employees are doing. Every piece of information collected by an employer using this technology can cost a worker their job. A report by theAmerican Management Association (AMA)and the ePolicy Institute, who time after time survey on various companies monitoring and surveillance practices, states that approximately 80% of companies notified their employees that they were being surveyed upon. Of the companies that revealed to their employees that they were being monitored, many did not reveal the form of monitoring that was used (Flynn, 2005). Beth Givens, the executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, asks employers to uphold their employers’ guidelines. Beth Givens states that “employers should notify employees that they are being monitored, what type of monitoring is being done, and how data from monitoring will be used” (Crane, 2006).

Business organizations can catch illegal and discriminatory messages sent by their employees before they can do harm. However, because of these, employees feel a lack of trust and privacy at work. There are advantages and disadvantages of electronic monitoring of employees at the work place. It’s not every workplace, workforce, or a work culture and environment can make it for the monitoring of employees at their place of work. In some working settings, depending on the environment and culture, the monitoring of employees would harm the trust, relationships and send wrong messages to the work force.


There are strong reasons as to why employees should be monitored. Electronic surveillance helps track employees use of the internet. This helps business organization control the way employees do personal business on the internet at the workplace and during their working time (Laura, 1120). This helps to solve productivity issues which are every employer’s concern. Electronic surveillance of employees at the work place can result to advantages on the part of the employer. The nature of websites that employees visit is of great concern to employers because of their ability to be viewed as creating a hostile working environment. The electronic surveillance helps employers to curb the creation of environment of harassment if employees visit inappropriate websites and share URLs among themselves (Laura, 1120). Electronic surveillance helps employers get emails and web records to defend themselves in case of a lawsuit.


  • Electronic surveillance affects the relationship of employees and their employer.
  • Electronic surveillance can also interfere with the work culture that enhances trust, motivation and commitment of employees.
  • Electronic surveillance of employees amounts to invasion on their privacy (Laura, 1120).

Various laws exist which can be used to define the right of employees and the right of employers as they relate to privacy and employee monitoring. The United States of America expresses a great concern about privacy on the internet. States legislatures have responded to this in a number of ways to the issue of privacy on the internet. Some of the actions that directly concern privacy on the internet include:

  • Employee E-mail Communications and Internet Access
  • Privacy of the Personal Information Held by ISPs
  • Privacy Policies: Government Web Sites
  • Privacy Policies for Web Sites

The federal criminal codes, discusses in a clear way the interception of wire, electronic, and oral communications. The electronic communication act clearly states that it is a federal crime for anyone to intentionally intercept, access, or use another electronic communication of another person in any way. There are various examples of landmark employee cases in the united states that relate with the employee privacy at their workplaces. For instance, a landmark lawsuit of Shoars vs. Epson America inc. explains how the assumption of privacy at the work place can cause a dismissal of an employee from a position. Alana Shoars found out that their boss was intercepting employees email messages after the employer requested her to encourage other employees to use the email system because it was safer. Because of her position on the issue, she was fired after protesting. She went on to file a suit and lost. The argument was that employees should not expect any privacy!

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Another example is of a Washington company that suspended one of their employees’ internet usage rights after it was found out that he was using his workplace computer to access pornographic materials on the internet. In the findings, he had downloaded a pornographic image from the internet and sent it to a printer, where it was seen by a co-worker who later reported it to the management. In an almost a similar scenario, a state agency employee was fired after it was discovered that he head been using the organization’s computer and the internet to access sexually-explicit Internet sites even after he had received a warning to stop. Another question is about employees’ usage of internet while off-duty and outside their employers’ premises. Employees have been warned disciplined or fired because of their off-duty, off-site usage of the internet and also for their private websites. For instance Lizz Sommerfield, an internet engineer was warned by her employer because of her personal website. Her website has photos of herself on leopard-pattern de signed underwear. The website also provides phonographic sites hypertext links. While she was neither fired nor disciplined, she objects to the fact that she was warned and asked to remove a reference to her employer from the website. Regarding the issue, Lizz Sommerfield stated that "it upset me that someone was spending so much time digging into my personal Web site and reading everything and giving it to my boss…I didn't feel like my boss needed to act like my parents" (Dedman, Jan.12, 1998).

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According to Snyder 270, this issue can be better addressed if employers and employees could closely work together. Employees can employ various ways to protect their privacy from being invaded. Employees can use separate email accounts for personal work related messages. Employees can also avoid sending confidential information via email without encryptions (Snyder 270). On the part of employers, they can consistently apply and enforce the surveillance policy. There should be developed a computer, email and internet policy. Employees should undergo training on a regular basis so that they can know what is expected of them. The employees should then be let to sign having read and understood the policy (Snyder 270).

Technology is a wonderful experience. Not again has human beings been reliant on gadgets and instruments in their everyday life. There is no doubt that technological developments have improved standards of living and made life convenient. These developments have brought about the threat of privacy invasion. As citizens of the United States, whether in accordance with the law or ethics, deserve the bright for privacy. Definitions of privacy must be clearly stated in order for citizens to enjoy equal rights because there is ambiguity. Most important, employees should get to know what of their activities are being monitored and what is not. There must be a sense of responsibility to uphold the greatest natural rights for human beings; autonomy and privacy.



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