Big Brother is Watching You

    Do you spend some of your work time cruising the internet?  Many employers monitor the internet activity of their employees.   The first two lines of an article on the subject that appeared on the internet called "Are you Being Watched?  Are you at Risk?" are:

Robert X was fired for downloading porn from the Web.   And he's not alone.  More businesses are monitoring Internet use and disciplining abusers.

    Another article "Sex Surfing Rampant in the Workplace" started with the following picture and text.

images/sexsurf.gif (2029 bytes)

Just what Internet sites do you think employees are visiting while on the job? A survey found that they are not all business related-unless the business happens to be sex.

Another scary article about this topic appeared in MSN careerbuilder entitled: Are you being watched? More and more companies are snooping on their workers.    The first paragraph of the article says

Your bosses are in a meeting, so you decide to spend a few minutes on the Internet, or playing a new computer game, or perhaps calling an out-of-town friend. You think you're safe, that it's OK. But don't be too sure--the odds are growing that someone is watching or listening.

   The July 10, 2000 issue of Business Week included an article by Larry Armstrong called "Someone to Watch Over You".   According to the article:

When it comes to privacy in the workplace you don't have any...Employee surveillance has mushroomed recently..An American Management Association poll of its members found that of its member organizations 54% track individual employee's internet connections, 38% admit to storing and reviewing their employees email...It's a good idea to keep personal and business e-mail in separate accounts.  The easiest way is to sign up with one of the many free e-mail services on the web, such as Microsoft's Hotmail...Some companies,..have an outright ban on personal use of e-mail and the internet on the theory that it cuts your productivity...Mike Godwin, a lawyer and author of CyberRights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age says that "I tell people faced with a very restrictive policy to try to follow it and don't cheat." 

   Not all companies are so restrictive.   According to the article

Lots of companies in today's tight labor market boast that high speed Internet access at work is a company perk. 

   That doesn't mean they are not monitoring Internet use.  In December 2000, the New York Times fired 23 employees for swapping off color email.  The courts back companies up who spy on employees. 

Your boss can monitor the time you spend on the phone and can eavesdrop on your voice mail.  Employers can review your computer files and copy and read your e-mail.  They can secretly tag along when you're surfing the Internet.  They can even put video cameras in washrooms--though not in the stalls.

   Even when are companies are not monitoring our email or internet use we can get caught by people suddenly walking by and catching us in the act.  The day before I wrote this I decided to take a quick look at an internet page at work and that's when my boss walked in and stared at my screen. In my experience when work is stressful, the urge to take a break by looking at an interesting item on the web or checking one's personal email can be strong.  Also the need to make personal calls can be strong.  If one needs to make calls about leaks in the apartment and so on, one has to make them when there is someone to answer the call which is during working hours.  One can try restricting calls to one's lunch period and hope that the people one is calling haven't left for lunch.  I have a friend who was fired without warning and then when he emailed his boss to find out why one of the reasons he was given was that he made too many personal calls. 

   Some companies have rules that forbid supervisors from warning employees that they are going to fire them.  This is because the companies don't want the employees getting revenge.  They may wait until the employee is out of the building before leaving the message that he is fired.  As a result one may be in more trouble with one's work than one realizes and not find out until it's too late to do anything about it.

    Why do people take risks when they know they might get caught?  If people have a strong urge to do something sometimes that clouds their judgement.  They don't want to believe they will get caught.  They minimize the risk to themselves.  This kind of minimization of risk is rampant among drug users and people who engage in promiscuous unprotected sex.  People may also engage in high risk behavior because they rationalize that a little bit can't hurt and once they start a little bit becomes a lot.  The idea that nothing will happen is reinforced every time they get away with it. 

    I tell people who take unnecessary risks, that you only have to be hit by a car once to be in the hospital for the rest of your life.

    There is a concept in Judaism about building a fence around sin.  If we keep ourselves away from temptation we are less likely to give into it.  If we don't sin a little, we are less likely to sin a lot.   Once one tastes of the apple of temptation it's hard to resist another apple.   The concept of building a fence around sin is one that can build a fence against our getting into trouble. 

    President Bill Clinton did not build a fence around the sin of adultery.  He would have been better off avoiding any encounters with his interns.  Once he was surrounded by attractive women who looked up to him he was surrounded by temptation.  President Clinton probably rationalized to himself that he would not get caught.

     Is Clinton that much worse than most of us?  Before we are too judgmental of him lets consider how many people download porn from the internet at work and how many more would if they weren't afraid of being caught.  Now imagine if instead of downloading porn these people could have the real thing.  President Clinton was in that situation.  He had a lot of incentive to minimize the risk too himself.   Yet rationalizing that the risk wasn't there did not minimize the real risk and his behavior is known in great detail by people all over the world and is described in voluminous detail in the Starr report.  

    In life it's better to face the risk that we can get caught then to convince ourselves that it won't happen.  The consequences of being caught doing what we are not supposed to be doing may cost us our job, our reputation and perhaps more.  One's reputation is one of the most valuable things one has.  We could all learn a lesson from what happened to Robert X, and to the President of the United States.

c o p y r i g h t   ( c )   1 9 9 9 -2004 Karl Ericson Enterprises.  All rights reserved

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