Big Brother: What Makes Surveillance Acceptable for a Business

Ever since Edward Snowden exposed the vast reach of the
American mass surveillance apparatus in 2013, the world has adopted a very
guarded and careful view of monitoring for security purposes. It should be
noted that there is a marked difference between the mass surveillance conducted
by the United States National Security Agency and the four other members of the
“Five Eyes” alliance: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Laws have been amended in these nations to control mass snooping dubiously
conducted in the name of national security. When it comes to the private
business sector, surveillance should be viewed through a different lens.

The Legal Aspect of Business Monitoring

In most Western jurisdictions, business owners have legal
rights to conduct surveillance for various purposes, but there are certain
limits that they should observe. First of all, the personal space and privacy
of employees and customers should never be set aside even when pursuing safety
angles; for example, an office manager can have staff members sign
acknowledgments that their online activity is being monitored, but this will
not give employers a right to read personal correspondence when they discover
that workers are accessing their personal email accounts from office computers.

The Ethical Aspect of Business Surveillance

Ethics are not always mentioned in the laws that allow
business owners to conduct surveillance; however, they are often mentioned in
the rules promulgated by regulators. CCTV systems,
for example, should not be used by employers to post videos of embarrassing
workplace incidents on social networks. In the private business sector, a
reasonable expectation of privacy follows individuals because they are not
interacting in public spaces.

Surveillance for the Sake of Security

There must be good reasons for business owners who install
surveillance and monitoring systems. Security is the most common and valid reason,
but there should be some level of notification to employees, business partners
and customers. A good practice would be a supermarket placing signs alerting
shoppers that surveillance cameras are recording for security, safety and
business improvement purposes; a bad practice would be installing hidden
cameras and failing to protect recording devices.

Entrapment Is a Big Brother Move that Could Backfire

An old Murphy’s Law about war fighting is that soldiers who
can see the enemy must assume that the enemy has been watching them all along.
When business owners conduct surveillance in total secrecy and with malicious
intent, they must expect that their tactics could very well be used against
them at anytime, usually by disgruntled workers, unhappy customers or slighted
partners.

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