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Employee monitoring: when IT is asked to spy

We talk to IT managers that have been asked to spy on staff

Does your IT manager know exactly what you do on your PC throughout the day? If you answered no, then you might be surprised. More than ever, IT managers can answer 'yes we do' to that query.

As corporate functions, including voice and video, converge onto IP-based networks, more corporate infringements are happening online. Employees leak intellectual property or trade secrets, either on purpose or inadvertently; violate laws against sexual harassment or child pornography; and waste time while looking like they are hard at work.

In response - spurred in part by stricter regulatory, legal and compliance requirements - organisations are not only filtering and blocking websites and scanning email. Many are also watching what employees post on social networks and blogs, even if it's done from home using non-company equipment.

IT's mixed response to spy duty

They are collecting and retaining mobile phone calls and text messages. They can even track employees' physical locations using the GPS feature on smartphones.

More often that not, IT workers are the ones being asked to do the digital dirty work, primarily because they're the people with the technical know-how to get the job done, says Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute.

Statistics are hard to come by, but Flynn and other industry observers agree that monitoring and surveillance are becoming a bigger part of IT's job.

Michael Workman, an associate professor at the Florida Institute of Technology's Nathan M. Bisk College of Business who studies IT security and behaviour at corporations, estimates that monitoring responsibilities take up at least 20 percent of the average IT manager's time.

Yet most IT professionals never expected they'd be asked to police their colleagues and co-workers in quite this way. How do they feel about this growing responsibility?

Workman says he sees a split among tech workers. Those who specialise in security issues feel that it's a valid part of IT's job. But those who have more of a generalist's role, such as network administrators, often don't like it.

PC Advisor's sister title Computerworld went looking for IT managers who would share their experiences and attitudes, and found a wide variety of viewpoints, ranging from discomfort at having to 'babysit' employees to righteous beliefs about 'protecting the integrity of the system'. Read on for their stories.

NEXT PAGE: The reluctant beat cop

  1. We talk to IT managers
  2. The reluctant policeman
  3. Using monitoring as a deterrent
  4. The legal eagle
  5. The conscientious objector
  6. Employee monitoring done right


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