Dataveillance and the hyper monitoring of employee activity

On reading "AA to log call centre staff's trips to loo in pay deal" by David Hencke of The Guardian, I came across what to me is a new work-related word. The new word - Dataveillance - as I quickly found out is not new at all and is said to be the 'surveillance of a person's activities through electronic data; the use of personal data systems to monitor individuals'. The definition didn't suprise me at all; what did surprise me is how easy it appears to be for employers to justify their hyper use of technology to check up on their employees.

The article in question outlines how nearly 3,000 AA call centre staff are to be monitored by computers to ensure they do not take too many breaks, in a move forming part of a performance-related pay deal whereby workers get a total of 82 minutes' free time, to include lunch, tea breaks and visits to the lavatory.

There are also several examples of dataveillance already being used, or to be introduced shortly, e.g. supermarkets wear mini-computers on their arms so they can be directed to pick up goods faster from shelves; Securicor, are interested in using jackets that incorporate built-in chips which can monitor staff; Spar and the firm Pets at Home are also developing technology to monitor till operators; and, Asda is investigating whether to introduce Wal-Mart-style " boom headsets", which can be used to instruct staff, at its depots. What is more, one firm producing surveillance equipment says it has the technology to remotely freeze a computer's mouse if an employee indulges in illicit emails or chat.

Unsurprisingly, the designers of dataveillance systems say that the intention is not to provide employers with the tools to spy on employees and are actually intended to improve efficiency and safety. However, any system that has the potentional to be abused must be jointly regulated in some way, yet it appears that it is the most weakly organized and vulnerable workers who are the main target for extreme versions of employee surveillance. Also see The Bog Snoopers (Zoe Williams, The Guardian).

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