Chipping Away at Workers' Privacy

Wednesday, 26 February 2003, 1:10 PM EST

At a casino in Atlantic City, an infrared sensor system keeps a computer log that tracks each time an employee fails to wash up after using the bathroom.

At a state college in Massachusetts, a secretary learns that a camera installed to deter after-hours intruders has in fact captured her changing clothes in her own office during the day.

At a porn site in California, an employee is fired after his employer discovers he's spent too much time on eBay and not enough doing his job, which, ironically, consists of looking at porn.

These are a few examples of the workplace surveillance Frederick Lane describes in his upcoming book, The Naked Employee, which looks at the growing use of technology to monitor employees' activities.

Lane, a Vermont attorney whose last book, Obscene Profits, focused on the online porn business, said he originally started out with a plan for a book on corporate espionage. As he began his research, however, he found that the techniques used for spying in-house were in many ways more advanced and more potentially invasive than technologies traditionally associated with spying.

"I started out with the basic idea that there was a great deal of surveillance taking place," Lane said. "But I don't think that I had a full grasp of all the techniques that are being used. What struck me is how varied the different types of technologies are, ranging from biometrics to drug testing and now GPS."

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