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Chapter 4. PRIVACY AT WORK

Chapter 4. PRIVACY AT WORK

In the 21st century, the phrase "workplace privacy" has become something of an oxymoron. If you work in the public sector, you may be able to lean on the U.S. Constitution and other state and federal laws for a modicum of protection. If you're slaving away for a private firm, your privacy rights can essentially be summarized as "their property, their rules."

In the past, workplace monitoring was spurred by a desire to increase productivity. These days, corporations are more worried about attackers than slackers. Worms, viruses, spyware, and other malicious code can reach into the network of computers at any corporation, and cost billions of dollars in lost income and time spent cleaning up the mess. Hackers and electronic eavesdroppers can compromise a company's internal networks and steal confidential data—if employees don't accidentally leak the information first via email or instant messaging. Concerns about security lead human resource executives to employ in-depth background checks and pre-employment screening. And that's barely scratching the surface.

But different companies have different cultures. Some may strictly forbid extracurricular web surfing; others may allow it as a perk for break times, or encourage you to explore the Web because it makes for more informed employees. Some firms record every call you make or scan every email message; others only monitor randomly or in situations where they suspect wrongdoing. And, of course, a few benighted firms don't monitor at all but rely on their employees to act appropriately.

Clearly, it pays to figure out what kind of company you're working for. What activities does your employer monitor and how? You'll want your company to put its policies in writing, so everyone knows where the lines are drawn. You should ask your boss what he's doing to protect your privacy, not just invade it. And while you're at it, you should find out what's legal, what isn't, and what's unknown. This chapter will give you those goods, and more.

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