Privacy invasions by federal agencies have been widely covered. Their intrusions were known to the Hill and White House, although our representatives were atypically silent on the issue. Thousands in DC who had not been briefed understood that email scanning and the capture of telephone metadata were possible, even likely on a massive scale. As early as 2005, wholesale Internet monitoring seemed plausible to those familiar with “deep packet inspection.”
But federal agencies are not unique — there are private sector invasions touting benefits to the public. One hospital agonized over placing a surveillance camera in the treatment room of an infant. The infant had repeatedly suffered respiratory distress whenever the mother was left alone with the child. Before the camera could document the mother trying to smother the child with a pillow, the mother confessed. In hospitals, surveillance cameras are routinely placed at hands-washing stations and in operating theaters. The cameras may serve worthy goals and the recordings are typically kept for only for forensic purposes. Regardless, hospital cameras strip privacy from patients, visitors, and employees.
An aggressive form of employee surveillance is being turned into a productivity tool. Evolv, a leader in the Quantified Workplace movement uses interviews and surveillance to database how people work and interact. Typically, Evolv’s data-intense studies yield a productivity gain of 5% in 2/3rds of studied jobs. Evolv produces templates for ideal employee hiring and for office practices across venues such as call-centers, creative departments, and boardrooms. But unless employees have a strong sense of personal security, this intense probing and privacy invasion will not be welcomed.
Those working in a regulated industry, such as energy or in a company needing judicial approval for a merger (e.g. two cable companies), may experience privacy invasion associated with lawsuit “discovery.” Your response to the discovery obligation may contain copies of emails, phone logs and messages, working notes, reports and letters. Although your attorney should be there to help, in a face-to-face session you will need to answer your opponent’s hostile questions about the discovery documents. Snippy emails, unfathomable margin notes, and even jokes that you thought were private might require embarrassing explanations.
Most of us now know that we have no expectation of privacy in any public space or in any emails or phone calls using devices or networks that belong to our employers.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research