Workplace Surveillance on the Rise

There's a bill moving through Congress that would make it legal for employers to force workers to share their entire DNA sequence and allow companies to punish workers who don’t comply.

Some companies now use vending machines that require a finger print or personal code.  Either way, that's information being saved somewhere in a data base, just like your “voluntary” biometric screening you're forced to get or face a penalty on health insurance.

“They are presented as voluntary, but really the pressure to join them is immense,” says Michelle De Mooy at the Center for Democracy & Technology.  “Not only will you pay more for your insurance, depending on the way it is structured, a lot of the information may be outside of legal protection.”

“If its administered through a third-party vendor, which increasingly many of them are, then all of the data is outside of HIPAA, which means its not protected and there are no standards for privacy and security which means all of your data is being bought and sold and shared,” she says.

One company requires employees to wear so-called “smart badges” that analyze how often you and the person you’re talking to interrupt each other, relative voice volume, and “mood.” It can also count how often you use keywords like “happy” or “proud.”

De Mooy says unfortunately, there's little if anything an employee can do to opt out.

“There were some court cases that determined if somebody said they did not want to be part of a workplace wellness program, if the wellness program itself was structured in accordance with the law, really a worker did not have standing to refuse.”

But she believes there is power in numbers if you let your employer know how uncomfortable this technology makes you feel.

“Maybe I'm giving employers too much of the benefit of the doubt, but I think many times they're not aware that the data they are asking for is making people uncomfortable or they're not creating programs where it is possible to opt-in or give somebody a choice,” says De Mooy.

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