The pros and cons of staff surveillance
Back in the long ago before balding and the writer's bug took hold of me, I ran a software company. In those days a high speed internet connection cost as much as a second-hand Ferrari and we were among the first to see the downside of internet abuse.
At first I was an idealist. I didn't want to be able to monitor what my employees did online or track their emails. Like a lot of techno-hippies, I believed that information wanted to be free.
Times change and as Groucho Marx said, "these are my principles but if you don't like them, I have others." And so, this bulletin is all about spying on your employees.
Times are changing
It was the reality of what happened when people misused the internet that changed my mind. I had employees in tears because they had received offensive but anonymous messages. Idiots emailed racist and sexist jokes to everyone. There were allegations of downloaded porn and pirated music and software.
�There are growing legal implications for employers.�
If anything the situation has got worse because many of the bad things people do online are now associated with security risks like viruses and spyware. Besides the personal pain that this misbehaviour causes, there are growing legal implications for employers:
Then there are equally-pressing productivity and reputation issues:
There are a number of things that you may want to consider:
All of this is possible using commercial tools, including Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2004, but there are legal and ethical constraints.
There are several laws that regulate how you monitor your employees.
A question of policy
�It was a struggle to get the balance right ten years ago and it still is.�
Lawyers advise that you should have a well-communicated policy and explain what you are doing and why. This also makes sense from a practical point of view because the possibility of scrutiny will cause ne'er-do-wells to think twice.
ACAS has a very helpful guide to writing an internet and email policy. In most cases, a lawyer's advice is also necessary. These days they should have boilerplate policies that you can use as a starting point.
In my case, I had to write my own policy from scratch because it was a new problem. Looking back, I'm not sure how effective it was without the possibility of surveillance to back it up. On the other hand, monitoring is intrusive and undermines trust for the majority of decent staff. It was a struggle to get the balance right ten years ago and it still is.