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Employee Privacy Right-Computer Usage Check

The growing use of computers at work place has resulted in employers using different software techniques to keep a check on computer usage by the employee at work time. As employers own the computer network and terminals, they have a right to monitor the activities of the employees while using computers. The monitoring may or may not be done with the full knowledge of the employee.

Some employee may be given certain privacy rights while using computers. If the employee is part of the union, the contract might limit employer’s right in computer monitoring and public sector employees may have some minimal rights under the United States Constitution, in particular the Fourth Amendment which safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure.

Computer Monitoring undertaken by the employers

  • Employers use software that enables them to check what is there on the screen or stored in the employees computer terminal and hard disks.
  • Employers can monitor internet usage, like web surfing or email.
  • Employees who are involved in intensive word-processing and data entry jobs may be subject to key stroke monitoring. This tells the employer how many key strokes per hour each employee is performing.
  • Employer may also track the amount of time the employee spends away from the computer.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), of 1986, intends to provide individuals with some privacy protection in their electronic communications. However, this act has several exceptions that limit its ability to provide protection in the workplace.

Like, the act does not prevent access to electronic communications by system providers, which could include employers who provide the necessary electronic equipment or network to their employees. The ECPA provides only limited protection to private sector employees.

The recent Federal statue affecting privacy in the workplace is the USA Patriot Act; the act was enacted post-September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This act expands the federal government’s authority to monitor electronic communications and internet activities, including e-mail. However, the act does not cover private sector employee-monitoring program.

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