Protect Your Privacy - In the Workplace

digital voice recorders - phone recorders

Protecting your privacy at home or in the workplace is getting harder and harder to do these days. Just take a look at our Wireless RFID Pick-Pocketing page to see how easily a common criminal can get into your personal or financial side of life. Much the same, technology makes it possible for employers to monitor many aspects of their employees' jobs, especially on telephones, computer terminals, through email and voice mail, and when employees are online. Almost everything  you do on your office computer can be monitored.

So, to help you out in these areas, we've listed some helpful tips and information resources on this page. Whether you're a loyal Spy-Tronix customer or a friendly visitor that is just stopping by - we wanted to give you a little help in the right direction and send you on your way with a better idea of what your rights are where privacy at home or in the workplace is concerned.

How to BLUR your house on Google Street Maps

Before we move on to "privacy in the workplace" - let's take a big leap forward at protecting the privacy of your home. First of all, why would you want to blur your house on Google Street Maps? Well, because people are too nosy and criminals can easily case your house without ever having to walk down your street.

Criminals can use Google Maps Street View to:

• Locate entrances to buildings
• Determine locations of security cameras, gates, etc
• Find good hiding places such as in shrubs and other areas
• Find holes or weak spots in perimeter fences
• Locate utility boxes (power, water, gas, etc)
• See what make, model, and color of vehicle a building occupant or resident drives
• See if locks, guards, dogs, etc, are normally present
• Measure distances between objects (using Google Earth) to determine how quickly it would take to run or drive from one point to another.

Prevent your home or business from being seen on Google Street View

Take a look at the image below - if you want your home to be blurred on Google or Bing Street View maps - just click on the image, enter your email and we'll send you detailed steps on how to do it.

Again, just click on the image above, fill in your email and we'll send you step by step instructions on how to remove your home from Google and Bing Street View maps.

Bookmark this page - enjoy the free information - and protect your privacy with Spy-Tronix!

Let's move on to privacy in the workplace.

We'll state it again because it is quite shocking: Employers routinely monitor employees on telephones, computer terminals, through email and voice mail, and when employees are online. Almost everything  you do on your office computer can be monitored. Such monitoring is virtually unregulated. Therefore, unless company policy specifically states otherwise (and even this is not assured), your employer may listen, watch and read most of your workplace communications.

Some would even say that "invading your privacy in the workplace is the new norm." This has caused many books on the subject to be written over the last decade or so.

Studies and surveys have shown that 65% of employers use software to block connections to web sites deemed off limits for employees. Employers are concerned about employees visiting adult sites with sexual content, as well as games, social networking, entertainment, shopping and auctions, sports, and external blogs. Of the 43% of companies that monitor e-mail, nearly three-fourths use technology to automatically monitor e-mail.  28% of employers have fired workers for e-mail misuse.

Close to half of employers track content, keystrokes, and time spent at the keyboard. 12% monitor blogs to see what is being written about the company. Another 10% monitor social networking sites.

Almost half of the companies use video monitoring to counter theft, violence and sabotage. Of those, only 7% state they use video surveillance to track employees’ on-the-job performance. Most employers notify employees of anti-theft video surveillance (78%) and performance-related video monitoring (89%).

Monitoring telephones in the workplace

Did you know that in most cases, your employer can monitor calls in the workplace? Even if it is supposedly for the reason of "monitoring customer service or quality control" - it still allows them to hear and record all of "non-customer service" calls that are made in the office.

Federal law, which regulates phone calls with persons outside the state, does allow unannounced monitoring for business-related calls. An important exception is made for personal calls. Under federal case law, when an employer realizes the call is personal, he or she must immediately stop monitoring the call. Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Co.  However, when employees are told not to make personal calls from specified business phones, the employee then takes the risk that calls on those phones may be monitored.

So if you absolutely need to make a personal call from work - you should really use your own mobile phone.

In general the conversations you have with co-workers are subject to monitoring by your employer in the same way that your conversations with clients or customers are. If you wear a headset, you should use the same care you would if you were talking to a customer or client on the phone. Some headsets have "mute" buttons which allow you to turn off the transmitter when you are not using the telephone.

You should also know that numbers dialed from phone extensions can be recorded by various devices. It allows the employer to see a list of phone numbers dialed by your extension and the length of each call. This information may be used to evaluate the amount of time spent by employees with clients.

Computer monitoring in the workplace

If you have a computer terminal at your job, it may be your employer's window into your workspace. Your boss can use computer software that enables them to see what is on the screen or stored in your computer terminals and computer hard drives. Of course, as you know already, employers can (and probably do) monitor your daily Internet usage such as web-surfing and email.

Have you ever heard of keystroke monitoring? Well, it can be a simple device placed on your PC, your keyboard, or more likely software that records every single keystroke you make on your computer. They can be used monitor productivity of an employee, but they also show every word you type, what was in your outgoing email, or internet activity like URLs or search words typed into your web browser.

Get this one...Since the employer owns the computer network and the terminals, he or she is free to use them to monitor employees. So generally they have a right to see everything that takes place on your computer.  But sometimes, union contracts, or similar entities, may limit the employer's right to monitor.  Also, public sector employees may have some minimal rights under the United States Constitution, in particular the Fourth Amendment which safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure.

The information collected can sure be used against you and it may or may not be announced that the information is being collected. Usually, you would learn this through internal memos, employee handbooks, union contracts, at meetings or on a sticker attached to the computer. But you should openly ask this when starting a new job - rather than finding out about your computer monitoring during a performance evaluation when the information collected is used to evaluate work.

What about my employee provided mobile device?

Yes, in most circumstances, your employer may legally monitor your usage of an employer-provided smartphone. Monitoring apps can secretly record your text messages, email, Web usage, location, contacts, call logs, photos and videos. 

Are my text messages on an employer-provided cell phone private?

In a June 2010 decision, City of Ontario v. Quon, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the search of a police officer's personal messages on a government-owned pager, saying it did not violate his constitutional rights. The city obtained a transcript of Quon’s messages during an investigation to determine whether officers were using their pagers for personal messages. The investigation showed that Quon had been exchanging sexually explicit messages.

The Court’s decision generally allows government employers to look at workers' electronic messages if employers have reasonable, work-related grounds. As an employee, you should assume that any electronic device provided by an employer may be subject to monitoring, whether or not such a device is specifically mentioned in a written policy.

Okay then, what about email, voice mail and normal postal mail?

In general, if an e-mail system is used at a company, the employer owns it and is allowed to review its contents. Messages sent within the company as well as those that are sent from your terminal to another company or from another company to you can be subject to monitoring by your employer. This includes web-based email accounts such as Gmail and Yahoo as well as instant messages. The same holds true for voice mail systems. In general, employees should not assume that these activities are not being monitored and are private. Several workplace privacy court cases have been decided in the employer's favor. Take Smyth v. Pillsbury for example.

In another similar legal case, a California court ruled that emails sent by an employee to her attorney from a computer in her workplace were not protected by attorney-client privilege.  However, unlike other cases, this employee used a company email account (rather than a personal webmail account) to send the emails.  The court noted that the employee had been (1) told of the company’s policy that its computers were to be used only for company business, (2) warned that the company would monitor its computers for compliance with this policy, and (3) advised that employees using company computers have no right of privacy.

Oh, yeah, one more thing you should know: Email and voice mail systems retain messages in memory even after they have been deleted. Although it appears they are erased, they are often permanently "backed up" along with other important data from the computer system. There is also software on the market that can dig deep into your deleted files and pull up files as long as they were not over-written with new data.

If I use my workplace to receive normal mail - can my employer open it?

We hate to say this, but - yes - most of the time they can do so. Although Federal law prohibits mail obstruction, mail is considered delivered when it reaches the workplace.  The USPS Domestic Mail Manual - click here to download it - confirms that this is true.

Accordingly, an employer does not violate the law by opening an employee's personal mail addressed to the employee at the employer's address.  After USPS delivers the mail to your employer, it's up to the organization to decide how to distribute it.  For example, a mailroom employee might be authorized to open all mail before sorting and delivering it.  This includes any mail marked "personal" or "confidential" for a specific employee. Read more about that here.

This is something you definitely need to think about if you are shipping your Spy-Tronix order to your workplace. As a concerned employee, you should always consult an attorney for guidance.

Social Media monitoring in the workplace

Depending on the policies your employer has in place and your State law - you could even be fired from your job for posting certain things on social media websites. Many companies have social media policies that limit what you can and cannot post on social networking sites about your employer. A website called Compliance Building has a database of social media policies for hundreds of companies. You should ask your supervisor or human resources department what the policy is for your company.

Things may work out for you differently if you are off duty when you post on your social networking platforms. Some states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, North Dakota and New York, have laws that prohibit employers from disciplining an employee based on off-duty activity on social networking sites, unless the activity can be shown to damage the company in some way. In general, posts that are work-related have the potential to cause the company damage. 

As you know, you can get a lot of information about people from what they (or others) post on social website. With that being said, employers can even hire third-party companies to monitor online employee activity for them. Mainly, it is normal for a company to want to make sure  that employees don't leak sensitive information on social networks or engage in any behavior that could damage a company's reputation.

Going beyond that general concern could be considered excessive for an employer. You might say that policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees. 

Thankfully, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin have enacted legislation protecting employees or job applicants from employers that require them to provide a user name or password for a social media account. 

Click here to get the latest on employer access to social media usernames and passwords.

Learn about video monitoring in the workplace

Not surprisingly, video monitoring and surveillance is an accepted method of deterring theft, maintaining security and monitoring employees.  For example, a bank may utilize video monitoring to prevent or collect evidence on a robbery. A company may also use video monitoring in a parking garage as a security measure for employee safety.  

For instance, we sell our security cameras very strongly to large and small businesses for the purpose of loss prevention, to stop employee theft (or shrink) and even to catch shoplifters. Employers may also use cameras to monitor employee productivity (i.e., who takes half hour smoke breaks, 2 hour lunches in the break room). Currently, federal law does not prevent video monitoring even when the employee does not know or consent to being monitored.  

Of course, you still have your right to privacy in such areas as locker rooms, restrooms, or places where you may need to change into a uniform to conduct your work. Should you ever doubt your privacy in those situations, then you should get one of our bug detectors or bug sweepers and get some peace of mind. Also, it has been established that various labor unions may often negotiate limitations on video recordings of unionized workers. Union members should speak with a union representative if they have concerns about workplace video monitoring. 

In a different category all to themselves are video cameras that also capture audio recordings. These are normally subject to laws relating to audio recording, including wiretap and eavesdropping laws. It is for this very reason that our larger security cameras do not have audio capability. 

Let's end with Global Positioning System (GPS) Devices and employee tracking

Generally, employers may use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) devices to track employees in employer-owned vehicles.  Some courts have extended this to employee-owned vehicles as well.  The law on this is rapidly evolving.  Learn more by reading GPS in the Workplace.  Some employers may use cellular tracking equipment to monitor employee location.

Learn more about our GPS Devices by clicking here.