Computer surveillance in the workplace

Computer surveillance in the workplace

Computer surveillance in the workplace refers to the issues related to the element of employee monitoring and workplace surveillance in which an employer engages in actively monitoring the usage of a company owned computer or terminal by an employee.

Computer surveillance may also refer to the use of computers to assist in monitoring more traditional security applications like video surveillance using Closed-circuit television or IP camera based systems.


Types of Monitoring

Computer Usage

Based on the technology and methods used, computer monitoring can track all activity or a specific type of activity on a company computer or terminal and can monitor devices installed on the computer (e.g., web cameras and microphones).

Tools used for monitoring employee computer usage incorporate one or more of the following types of monitoring:

  • Screen monitoring can incorporate 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. This monitoring can collect realtime video, accelerated or [time-lapse] video or screenshots, or can take video or still image captures a regular interval (e.g., once every 4 minutes), collect all information, or collect information when the user is at the machine (e.g., capturing screens when the mouse or keyboard is active).
  • Data monitoring can track the content 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) has been used to 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 on the monitored machine.
  • Idle time monitoring can be used to track time when the employee is away from the computer or the computer is not being actively used.


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.

  • Web
  • Email
  • Instant Messaging


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 statue. [1]

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.

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.[2]


In organizations without stated computer usage or monitoring policy, employees typically use the company computer 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 seen by employees as an invasion of privacy or a lack of trust.


  • Protection of Intellectual Property
  • Data theft deterrence and protection
  • Protection of confidential, client, and/or employee information
  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased risk for liabilities associated with inappropriate web or Internet usage (e.g., malware, adult content, computer virus, 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
  • Monitoring or using the results of monitoring for employee reviews or evaluations may affect performance or productivity in a negative way

See also


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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