You might not have noticed it yet, but your boss probably has you under surveillance. Simon Davies reports from Britain on a disturbing trend.
Don Falmer lurks in the murky world of Britain's private investigators. His job is to plant bugs in company offices. Falmer's latest toy is the "Computer Keyboard Monitoring System" developed by UK company Vascom. It connects to the computer via the keyboard plug, from which it is powered, and transmits every keystroke to a receiver module, which can be located up to 150 metres away. No wires. The receiving module can be connected to a standard printer, which then records all keystrokes. Alternatively, an optional LCD display can be used to display all characters as they are typed.
He is also proud of the gear for his "special" covert operations. Twice
last month he had the opportunity to install the state-of-the-art in covert audio bugs: a remotely operated, multiple room monitoring system called DIAL (Direct Intelligent Access Listening, supplied by Lorraine Electronics) DIAL allows an operator to monitor conversations in several rooms from an unlimited distance without the use of transmitters. Up to four concealed microphones are connected to the telephone line, and these are activated and controlled by making a "coded" telephone call to the building. It is entirely powered by the telephone line and will function maintenance free for several years.
Falmer is up to his neck in surveillance work. Every day, three, four, five companies ask him to bug their workers. "It's a sure thing that when a company suspects one of it's staff is touting for a new job, they'll bug every conversation he has".
"And you can bet that when a company suspects foul play, it will bug
everything from the phone lines to the locker rooms".
Europe is awash with technologies that can eavesdrop on computers, bug
phones and spy on intimate moments. It's a game anyone can play.
The range of new technologies, and their almost limitless range of
functions, is creating a buoyant economy in the snoop market. Rapid advances in telephone intercept equipment, video camera technology, identification technologies and intelligence gathering systems have created an unprecedented sweep of opportunities for anyone with an inquiring mind.
More important still is the fact that these new technologies are within the reach of almost anybody. Cameras measuring 42 mm square and able to see in virtual darkness are freely available on the British market for less than £200. Tens of thousands are sold openly each year. Snooping on workers has always been a popular pastime amongst employers, but now it is an industry in its own right.
Workers in Britain - and many other European countries - have almost no right to privacy. Employers are permitted - "within reason" - to place all employees under constant surveillance. That means that they can do more or less whatever they please as long as they don't breach the data protection act or engage in stalking or harassment.
Employers can tap phones, read email and monitor computer screens. They can bug conversations, analyse computer and keyboard work, peer through CCTV cameras, use tracking technology to monitor personal movements, analyse urine to detect drug use, and demand the disclosure of intimate personal data, the casualisation of the workforce accelerates these activities.
Telephone software such as WatCall from Harlequin analyses the numbers which are made and received by employees. In computer and telephone based industries, such software packages have turned supervisors into the digital equivalent of Victorian workhouse foremen. The new generation of monitoring technology is extremely powerful. It can analyse "keystrokes" on a terminal to determine whether employees are making efficient use of their time between telephone conversations.
Even highly skilled workers can expect to be routinely put under the microscope. It's likely that any manager who purchases network-operating software is already getting built-in eavesdropping functions. Some packages, such as Win Watch Professional and Norton-Lambert's Close-Up/LAN software, allow network administrators to observe an employee's screen in real time, scan data files and e-mail, analyse keystroke performance, and even overwrite passwords.
These trends can only produce one result: the workplace of tomorrow will have many of the features of the Dickensian workhouse.