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What price privacy?


THE US CONGRESS IS considering legislation that would have serious implications for the private security industry - both in-house and contract services - if its language is not altered. The legislation is the Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act (H.R. 2168/S. 2164) introduced by Rep. Bill Clay (D-MO) and Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL).

The legislation's intent is to limit the use of electronic devices in monitoring employees' activities. The Communications Workers of America (CWA), a union whose members are mostly telephone operators, is a primary proponent of the legislation. The CWA opposes monitoring and the use of calls-handled data for setting work standards.

Regardless of the merit or lack of merit of the legislation, the security industry would face difficult obstacles if it were to become law with its current language intact.

The bill focuses on electronic monitoring in the gathering of personal data about employees and would forbid collection of such information unless "relevant to the employee's work performance." Even if the information was deemed relevant to work performance, the broad definitions of electronic monitoring and personal data would subject safety or security monitoring to requirements that would restrict or totally compromise those efforts.

The legislation's definition of electronic monitoring is "the collection, storage, analysis, and reporting of information concerning an employee's activities by means of a computer, electronic observation and supervision, remote telephone surveillance, telephone call accounting, or other form of visual, auditory, or computer-based surveillance conducted by any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo-electronic, or photo-optical system."

This definition encompasses a broad array of electronic devices used by security personnel in protecting the well-being and personal possessions of employees and visitors on a business's premises, as well as its economic health.

Personal data is broadly defined by the legislation as "any information concerning an employee which, because of name, identifying number, mark, or description, can be readily associated with a particular individual, and such term includes information contained in printouts, forms, or written analyses or evaluations."

The bill could hamper necessary, security-related, information-gathering efforts. The bill requires written notification to affected employees describing the form of electronic monitoring to be performed, the personal data collected, frequency of electronic monitoring, and use of the information collected.

As currently written, the bill would, in effect, require an employer to inform an employee suspected of embezzling funds or misusing property that he or she is being monitored.

These security-related concerns are not alarmist hyperbole; they reflect the bill's actual language, which does not differentiate between collecting information to evaluate productivity and doing so for legitimate purposes.

If Congress intends to restrict the use of monitoring in establishing production standards and work performance expectations, then the legislation should plainly say so. As proposed, however, this bill would leave unrelated concerns such as security matters open to misinterpretation and subject to unwarranted restrictions.

About the Author ... Paul L. Rashblott is vice president, corporate secretary, and general counsel of Baker Industries Inc. in Parsippany, NJ. He is also vice chairperson of Security Companies Organized for Legislative Action (SCOLA).
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Title Annotation:draft legislation intended to protect workers from electronic monitoring has serious implications for security
Author:Rathblott, Paul L.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Previous Article:Electronic Locking Devices.
Next Article:Delegating up, down, and sideways.

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