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What are Surveillance Technologies?

In the workplace context, surveillance technologies are tools that monitor employees at work, including by automatically tracking employee productivity, attentiveness, movement, and other metrics. Employers might use this information to make decisions about task management, advancement, and even termination.

Most employees understand that they are not guaranteed total privacy on the job, but the use of surveillance technologies can be more extreme than many employees realize. For example, workers generally assume that company emails are not private, and important records must be stored long-term. However, they typically do not realize that their employers can use surveillance tools that collect individualized data to show when a worker was active, how many emails they sent, and even what their keystrokes or facial expressions might reveal.

Here are a few examples of surveillance technologies:

  • Keylogger tracking of an individual’s clicks and mouse movements
  • Video monitoring of biometric data, such as eye movement and facial expressions
  • Location tracking of employee movements in the office and between work sites
  • Tracking of web browsing behavior and desktop application usage
  • Communications monitoring of email and messaging platforms

In some cases, workers who do not meet baseline metrics can face disciplinary action, such as docked pay, termination, and lost promotion opportunities. This is especially concerning given that “eight of the 10 largest private U.S. employers now track the productivity metrics of individual workers, many in real-time.”

Another form of surveillance can come from workplace wellness programs. Employers often incentivize participation in wellness programs that collect sensitive health data. Although participation is typically voluntary, these programs run the risk of undermining DEIA goals because they are more likely to exclude or disadvantage people with disabilities and people with chronic health conditions. For example, wellness programs that encourage fitness benchmarks may be unrealistic for some employees—who either risk sharing sensitive health information by participating or miss out on the program’s incentives by opting out.

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