Is Big Brother Watching At Work?

Sgt. Carlos E. Pernell, 25, of Munford, Ala., died in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, on June 6, 2006, when their camp received indirect enemy fire during combat operations. AP

Ever get the feeling you're being watched? There's a good chance you are. As CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, three out of four companies admit to spying on their employees.

Your boss could be secretly tracking your every move at work including phone conversations, where you go on the Internet, even the contents of personal e-mails.

Roy Young sells and uses the snooping software called Silentwatch. "I will never have to leave my office to find out what an employee is doing, if he's working at his desk, and what he's working on," says Young.

Using the software, Young's computer can see and record every display, every keystroke from up to 16 workers' computers at once.

1984 in 2000?
According to a recent survey by the American Management Association, over three-quarters of employers admit to electronically monitoring their workers and one-quarter say they have dismissed employees for misuse of telecommunications equipment.
It's the electronic equivalent of having the boss peer over your shoulder, and it's a billion-dollar business. With the Internet at so many fingertips, employees are often spending more time at work but getting less work done.

An office manager, wishing to remain anonymous because he doesn't want his workers to know he's using special snooping software, spoke to CBS News. He captured one employee who turned slacking off into an art. "He'd send an e-mail to one friend, it's like 'ah, I got it great here, you really don't have to do any work here; you can pretty much goof off all day long.' You know, he even went on to say this is what he does in the morning, 'I get here and get the coffee and just run around making myself look like I'm doing things.'"

The slacker was fired, along with 10 percent of the company's small work force, based on the results of electronic eavesdropping.

The stealth software bears nefarious names like Disk Tracy, and Investigator.

Using Investigator, Maurice Woodard of Diamond State Recovery Services can see every character his employees type. "He's asking questions about getting back and forth home from work," Woodard recites as he tracks a personal e-mail chat in progress. "And then he starts to use expletives in this particular section We would obviously not be happy that people would use that kind of language."

Ironically, that same private conversation would have been off limits to the boss if it had taken place on the telephone. But there's no privacy protection for computer communications. And that's raising serious ethical questions.

Rhonda Wieben, an insurance adjuster, installed personal software on her company laptop. "I didn't know that it was against company policy," says Wieben. "This was to help me so that I could keep up on my work load in my own time, and so it wasn't like, you know, surfing the 'net or doing things on company time."

By snooping on her computer, the company found the unapproved software and fired her after eight years on the job.

"It was devastating," recounts Wieben.

Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union has gotten several calls from individuals who say their employers have violated their privacy rights. "Unfortunately, the law doesn't recognize those privacy rights and for the most part, we have to advise those employees that there isn't anything we can do for them under the law," says Steinhardt.

Privacy advocates say employers should at least tell workers if they're being monitored. Even the creator of the Investigator software, Richard Eaton agrees. "I mean, if your purpose is to stop abuse, then tell them. If your purpose is to embarrass and humiliate them, then by all means don't tell them."

It's the new, hard truth of the electronic age: the place where you spend more time than anywhere except home is the place where you have the least privacy.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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