Thursday, September 30, 2004

Code of Practice on Employee Monitoring

I wish to share my concern on the recent PCO consultation document on Draft Code of Practice on Monitoring and Personal Data Privacy at Work, to be launched under the PDPO. I see it as a potential opportunity for general office managers, HR managers and IT managers, all EO core duties. We had better give it some thoughts and be prepared for work ahead.

Employers have a legitimate claim in monitoring the performance of those they paid to work for them. Employees also have a right of keeping their privacy, as the basic human right. With the advent of technology, monitoring is now very easy. The consultation document highlights several types of monitoring:

- Telephone monitoring: all forms of monitoring of voice calls on telecommunication equipment including mobile phone provided by employers. This is getting easier as more offices engage digital voice processing, both for communication and record.
- Email monitoring in relation to e-mail sent or received on equipment made available by employers.
- Internet access monitoring: websites accessed by browsers and associated equipment made available by employers.
- Video monitoring: any video or CCTV monitoring, but does not include observation by a human being in floor walking. Video processing is also getting easier with webcam and DV.

The Draft Code will not touch on employee drug testing, psychological profiling and productivity monitoring by automated equipment, which could only made legitimate by specific provisions in employment contracts.

The Draft Code proposes that two principles should be considered in order to balance legitimate monitoring and protection of personal data privacy:
- Principle of Proportionality: any intrusion on the employees' privacy should be in proportion to the benefit derived from monitoring by the employers, and related to the desired risk of reduction of the monitoring. Employers must evaluate what sort of risk he is facing and which he want to ameliorate, and only undertake monitoring likely to reveal the feared type of transgressions.
- Principle of Transparency: employers should provide employees with sufficient information to enable the employees to make an informed choice regarding their behaviour at work.
- Also, communications monitoring should be limited to scrutiny of the log record of the communication rather than the content of the communication, unless it is clear that the information in the log record fails to achieve the business purpose of monitoring.

The intention of the Code is to regulate, or reduce, unnecessary monitoring by employers. However, my prediction is the opposite. I think when the Code is formally launched, instead of reducing monitoring, employers will realize that they can legitimately monitor the behaviour of employees under certain conditions. Managers (EOs) will be asked to devise such monitoring system within the legal boundary. For IT, we have SAM, mail traffic log, internet traffic log and it virtually does not cost extra but a little effort on analysis. Many departments have installed tracking system for staff and cars. The possibility of monitoring is unlimited. They has already been considered as effective tools to re-engineer, re-organize and change work procedures to achieve better VFM.

This is a niche that we can explore, either for better management of resources, or better protection of human right. If we get a head start first, we can be the professionals in this area.

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