'Snooping technology' reports spark call for stronger law on staff surveillance

Polling finds 36% of public sector workers have seen introducion of monitoring technology
Photo: Sami Khan/Flickr/public domain

By CSW staff

10 Nov 2021

Trade union Prospect has called for new legal protections from employer surveillance, as it released polling showing an increase in number of staff reporting they were awareness of tech being used to monitor them.

Two surveys by pollster Opinium, both of which questioned just over 2,400 workers, found that the proportion of workers who are aware of monitoring by their employer rose from 24% in April to 33% now. Both figures for public sector workers were higher, up from 26% six months ago to 36% in the recent survey.

Prospect focused on surveillance in people’s homes, with 13% of respondents who work more often from home saying their employer uses camera monitoring. “We are used to the idea of employers checking up on workers, but when people are working in their own homes this assumes a whole new dimension,” said the union’s general secretary Mike Clancy.

“We think that we need to upgrade the law to protect the privacy of workers and set reasonable limits on the use of this snooping technology, and the public overwhelmingly agree with us,” he added, with the new poll finding that 52% of those questioned thought the use of webcams to monitor remote workers should be banned and a further 28% thinking it should be heavily regulated. The union wants an explicit ban on general camera monitoring of home workers, restricting its use to meetings and video calls.

“Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home,” added Labour shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah. “The bottom line is that workers should not be subject to digital surveillance without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers.”

The new polling suggested that public sector workers are more likely than those in the private sector to be subject to specific monitoring technologies. Most frequently mentioned was email and chat response time monitoring, reported by 16% of public sector respondents, compared with 12% of private sector workers. Camera monitoring was mentioned by 15% of public sector workers and 13% in the private sector, while keystroke monitoring was mentioned by 12% from the public sector and 10% from the private sector.

Younger workers in both the public and private sectors appeared to be subjected to more workplace surveillance, with 20% of 18-34 year olds mentioning camera monitoring compared with 6% of those aged 55 and over.

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