Computer surveillance in the workplace

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Computer surveillance in the workplace refers to the use of computers to monitor activity in a place of work. computer monitoring, a method of accumulating performance evidence which employers take from their employees through the means of the computers they use at work. Computer surveillance may also incorporate more traditional security applications such as video surveillance with Closed-circuit television or IP camera based systems.

Types of monitoring[edit]

Computer usage[edit]

Depending upon the technology and methods used, monitoring applications may track all activity or may target specific activities of employees on a company-owned computer or terminal. They may monitor various devices installed on the computer (e.g., web cameras and microphones). This includes not only recordings from these devices but also remote broadcasting of live feed from webcams and microphones.[1]

Tools used for monitoring employee computer usage incorporate:

  • Screen monitoring records video or static images detailing the contents, or screen capture, of the entire video display or the content of the screen activity within a particular program or computer application. Monitoring tools may collect real time video, accelerated or time-lapse video or screen shots, or may take video or still image captures at regular intervals (e.g., once every 4 minutes). They may collect images constantly or only collect information while the user is interacting with the equipment (e.g., capturing screens when the mouse or keyboard is active).
  • Data monitoring tracks the content of and changes to files stored on the local hard drive or in the user's "private" network share.
  • Keystroke monitoring (e.g., number of keystrokes per minute) may track the performance of keyboard-intensive work such as word processing or data entry. Keystroke logging captures all keyboard input to enable the employer to monitor anything typed into the monitored machine.
  • Idle time monitoring keeps track of time when the employee is away from the computer or the computer is not being actively used.
  • Printer monitoring records documents files that are printed from the computer.
  • Removable drives monitoring tracks external devices that are connected to the computer.
  • Video/audio monitoring makes recordings and snapshots from connected devices webcam and microphone and broadcasts video/sound live.

This is also known as employee monitoring in the industry. Employee monitoring is used for many reasons including compliance and detecting insider threats. Other examples of what employee monitoring software can do is email monitoring, instant message monitoring, file attachment monitoring, print monitoring and more.


Internet surveillance is the monitoring of Internet data traffic, web access, and other online activity. This may include monitoring any Internet traffic including encrypted web browser traffic on Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connections, personal web-based email, and personal banking sites. Research done by American Management Association that nearly 30 percent of all employers in the United States monitor employee e-mails.[2]


This type of monitoring is generally allowed where the employer owns the computers, terminals, network, and Internet access. Depending on the country or legal jurisdiction and the specific methods of surveillance used, there may be additional requirements to notify the employee of the monitoring or monitoring policy to be legal.

Labor union contracts and other forms of employment agreements may offer some protection from monitoring. Additionally, in the United States, public sector employees may have some protection under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Employees in California may have additional protection under specific portions of state statute.[3]

Employers may be required to maintain documentation of emails and other communications for regulatory or compliance purposes. The monitoring of email and instant messaging communications may be part of these requirements.[4]

Some software used for this type of surveillance may impose additional restrictions or notification requirements based on their End User License Agreement (EULA). For example, Spectorsoft requires that employees have signed a contract stating that their computer activity may be monitored when they were employed. Additional legal issues may arise if information obtained from the monitoring is used for illegal or malicious purposes.[5]


In organizations without stated computer usage or monitoring policy, employees typically use the company's equipment at their respective discretion and, in most cases, there may be no visible restrictions or monitoring of the activities performed on this computer. The use of computer surveillance within the employee discipline or evaluation process may be viewed by employees as an invasion of privacy or a lack of trust. Employers have the right to monitor their employees in the United States but of course, there are specific rules and regulations they must follow depending on the state legislation.[6]

Despite the fact that almost 80% of all major companies in America actively monitor their employees.[7], public opinion is still mostly on the employees’ side. Most of Americans still think that monitoring in the workplace is not entirely acceptable. According to Pew Research Center, only 6% of respondents do not care about being monitored at work.[8] The rest of the employees have concerns about such monitoring.


  • Protection of Intellectual Property
  • Data theft deterrence and protection
  • Protection of confidential, client, and/or employee information
  • Increased productivity (? see: Criticism)
  • Employers use monitored feeds of current employees to train new hires; a proven effective training tool where new hires gain experience through examining current employees in real situations.[9]
  • Increased level of professionalism and tact in intra-organization communications
  • Decreased risk for liabilities associated with inappropriate web or Internet usage (e.g., malware, adult content, computer virus, ransomware etc.)


  • Monitoring may be subject to additional laws and restrictions
  • Monitoring of computer usage may lower employee morale
  • Employees may consider computer surveillance to be a breach of their personal privacy[10]
  • Monitoring or using the results of monitoring for employee reviews or evaluations may affect performance or productivity in a negative way
  • Though employers have come to reasonable conclusion that monitoring can boost employee productivity and performances, it may also lead to increased stress in the work environment.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Strohmeyer, Robert (22 March 2011). "How to Monitor Your Employees' PCs Without Going Too Far". PCWorld. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Electronic Interaction in the Workplace: Monitoring, Retrieving and Storing Employee Communications in the Internet Age ::".
  3. ^ "Privacy Rights of Employees Using Workplace Computers In California". Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  4. ^ "Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring". Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. 6 July 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  5. ^ "FBI investigates allegations webcam used to monitor student". Archived from the original on 2012-04-12. Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  6. ^ Ella, V. John (April 2016). "Employee Monitoring and Workplace Privacy Law" (PDF). American Bar Association. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  7. ^ ROMY RIBITZKY (2017-04-18). "Active Monitoring of Employees Rises to 78%".
  8. ^ MARY MADDEN AND LEE RAINIE (2015-05-20). "Americans' Attitudes About Privacy, Security and Surveillance".
  9. ^ "The Pros and Cons of Workplace Surveillance". Small Business -
  10. ^ Martin, Kirsten; Freeman, R. Edward (2003-04-01). "Some Problems with Employee Monitoring". Journal of Business Ethics. 43 (4): 353–361. doi:10.1023/A:1023014112461. ISSN 1573-0697.
  11. ^

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