Big Brother – Surveillance In The Office

Surveillance in the Workplace

The United Kingdom is often regarded as one of the countries with the most surveillance in the world. In 2015 the British Security Industry Association estimated that there were between 4-5.9 million CCTV cameras in the UK, which many people simply accept as part of life.

Surveillance powers in the UK were increased even further when the Investigatory Powers Act was implemented in 2016. This act, often nicknamed the Snoopers Charter, gave sweeping powers that would allow security services to hack into networks, mobile devices, computers and more.

It would have also allowed both police and security services to access communications data, which meant that internet history data had to be stored for 12 months. There were many other things that this act would have allowed to be observed or kept, but the act caused protests from the public.

It was ruled to be unlawful in early 2018 by appeal court judges, requiring the government to create changes to the act.

Japanese Company Takes Surveillance Further

For British workplaces however, surveillance and the rights to it are slightly different than they are for a private citizen. An employer can monitor the activities of their employees which can include recording activities on CCTV, opening their mail or e-mail, checking their phone logs, checking which websites were visited and more.

According to Citizens Advice, these forms of monitoring are all covered by data protection law as this does not prevent any monitoring being undertaken in the workplace. This means that an employer is legally allowed to monitor certain aspects of employees work lives.

What is important though is that employers make sure that staff understand the reasons behind any monitoring and the potential benefits along with identifying any potential negative effects that could occur. Organisations also must work out whether the monitoring they are undertaking is justified and if there are any alternatives that are less intrusive that can be used.

Monitoring on the level of Japanese company Daikin is unlikely to be legal in the UK, where sensors have been installed on their ceiling mounted air conditioners. These sensors have been designed to then gather a variety of data including lighting, noise levels and office activity. They will also measure how the employees move around the office, including how fast they walk to monitor employee’s health and enhance workplace security.

Some of the reasons behind installing the sensors include allowing Daikin to observe for signs of poor mental and physical health along with creating better seating arrangements. The information would be stored and processed into a cloud computing system that will be used by partner companies in the hopes of developing a consultation service with the company receiving fees for the use of data.

What Can Employees Do About Monitoring?

As stated before though, an employer is legally allowed to monitor the use of phone, e-mail, fax and internet in the workplace. However, this can only be done if it is related to the business and that the equipment they monitor has been provided either partly or wholly by the organisation for work.

An employer must make sure to make efforts that are reasonable to inform you when any communications you have are being monitored, though they do not need your consent if they abide by certain reasons for the surveillance. These can include monitoring to either prevent or detect crime, check for any use of the telecommunications systems that are unauthorised and more.

Secret monitoring, such as using hidden cameras or audio devices, are rarely legal and particularly should not be used in areas such as toilets. An employer should make sure to have either a code of conduct or a policy that outlines their workplace monitoring.

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Sarah Jubb
Sarah Jubb

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