Big Brother is watching?

Subject: Big Brother is watching?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2001 14:53:19 -0400

Rowena Hart <<... recently changed jobs and was not terribly surprised to
hear that my new employer actively screens all outgoing e-mail (including
e-mail sent from my "private" Yahoo! account).>>

Routine screening makes good sense, since sensitive information can easily
escape into the hands of competitors via e-mail. You could also do your
company's reputation substantial damage if you post offensive things from
their address and are thus seen to be acting as a spokesman for the company
(which is why you'll see lots of "my opinion, not the company's" disclaimers
in the sig lines of techwhirlers). From what I've read, this monitoring is
fairly common.

<<... my employer also likes to take a look at what is active on each
employee's desktop on a regular basis. In the past (?) they had video
cameras operating in the engineering area that were presumably reviewed for
evidence of suspicious activities and phone calls. These cameras have either
been removed or more expertly hidden.>>

The cameras are probably better hidden; the technology's advanced enormously
over the past few years and become remarkably ubiquitous according to a
documentary I saw on TLC a few weeks ago.

<<there are no policies indicating what actions are considered improper use
of company property. I seriously doubt that any companies publicly state
that they are performing surveillance, or identify what they are using their
surveillance to detect.>>

I have no formal knowledge of the legalities of the process, but a recent
article in the Globe and Mail's _Report on Business_ magazie (or was it the
National Post's magazine?) reported many cases of summary dismissal of
employees based on monitoring of their e-mail; some of the dismissals have
been upheld by the Court, but others resulted in counter-suits because the
company had not posted its acceptable uses policy. It's a sticky legal
issue, since the employer owns your computer and network, and thus, could
legally be considered to own the information you produce with it.
Conversely, if they don't notify you of their policy, you'd probably have a
strong case for "unjust dismissal" if your use of the computer resources was
justifiable; "ignorance of the law" is a perfectly good defence if there's
no law! <g>

One data point: on the advice of our lawyers, FERIC (my employer) recently
required all employees to sign our computer-use policy to prove that we'd
read it--despite the relatively low litigiousness of Canadians. I made sure
to clear my specific uses (e.g., techwr-l) with my supervisor just to be on
the safe side. All in all, you should probably advise your employer to get
their lawyers to put something in writing and make sure that the employees
read and sign it--to protect both the company and yourself.

<<Are my STC-related e-mails going to get me fired? Similarly, if I post an
e-mail to TECHWR-L that contains
information about a product in development (and, presumably, a technical
issue that I need assistance resolving) is that considered a breach of

When in doubt (i.e., in the absence of a published policy), get your
supervisor to give you written permission for your specific situations.
Protect thyself! If worse came to worst and the company fired or disciplined
you for something the supervisor had approved, you could presumably defend
yourself (up to and including sueing the company for unjust dismissal) on
the basis that one of their legally appointed officers (your supervisor)
gave you permission.

<<At my previous job, our technical writing department manager used to
regularly screen our e-mails for evidence of job dissatisfaction, job
hunting, or slanders of her managerial talent. At least one member of the
department was reprimanded by this manager for complaining about the manager
in a supposedly private Yahoo! e-mail. Was this legitimate or was this
an invasion of privacy?>>

It's probably legal, but even if it isn't, how are you going to know if your
manager discovers something in your mail that biases them against you in all
future situations (e.g., performance reviews)?

<<How widespread is the use of surveillance in companies?>>

Increasingly widespread, based on what I've read. The old Internet advice of
"don't post something under your own name if you're worried it'll come back
to haunt you in 5 years" is probably better advice than ever before.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
do something about it."--Jon Shear


*** Deva(tm) Tools for Dreamweaver and Deva(tm) Search ***
Build Contents, Indexes, and Search for Web Sites and Help Systems
Available 4/30/01 at or info -at- devahelp -dot- com

Sponsored by DigiPub Solutions Corp, producers of PDF 2001 Conference East,
June 4-6, Baltimore, MD. Now covering Acrobat 5. Early registration deadline
April 27.

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as: archive -at- raycomm -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: New vs current browser window for PDF?
Next by Author: Has anyone had a good STC conference experience?
Previous by Thread: Re: Big Brother is watching?
Next by Thread: Re: Big Brother is watching?

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads