Covert video surveillance becomes widespread in Russian offices


Pravda
April 7, 2008

Is it irritating when somebody is watching you all the time? Can you stand somebody’s supervision especially when you are working? It is high time you got used to it. More than every second Russian employee is under surveillance of “the glassy eye”. Video cameras obtrusively rush in office life, break customs and set new rules. Stay on alert! A step to the right or a step to the left may be regarded as an escape, while a jump – as an attempt to fly away.

Birthdays and various parties that used to be boisterous office merrymaking turned into mere tea-parties. There is no rumour-mongering in the smoking room any more, but there is more distrust and intimidation for directors. Employees miss the times when they could move around the office without leaving their chairs and play with crumpled paper balls in their free time. Colleagues became humble and hardworking; they come to work as per schedule, spend minimum time for dinner and fully devote themselves to work.

Does that sound familiar to you? Most of you work in companies equipped with video surveillance systems. As it turns out, video surveillance affects employee’s work more significantly than other control methods (wiretapping, looking through emails and reading the most frequently visited websites).

Directors’ interest in work of their employees is quite understandable. Indeed it is important for the working process how disciplined employees are, when they come to work and whether they pay too much attention to talks and things damaging to work. The surveillance of their day provides the employer with all the necessary information about his employees and helps learn whether they spend their working time efficiently and rationally. Besides, such data enable them to discover imminent conflicts and to settle them in good time. That is why Russian companies follow the Western fashion and install video surveillance systems.

Meanwhile, it is not so very simple to install video surveillance systems in offices, for it may cause discontent or even protest on the part of employees. It is worth remembering that every citizen of our country has the constitutional right to privacy. However, some lawyers consider that work is not part of privacy and approve of office surveillance. According to them, the time spent at work belongs to a company, since it is “bought” by employers.

Opponents of this approach argue that when performing employment duties every person has his own “immunity zone” and nobody has the right to intrude into it. Thus, before installing a video surveillance system the employer should consult his employees and get their permission for this innovation.

It is to be noted that video surveillance may be overt and covert. In the first case employees are aware of being watched and as a result they try to carry out their duties more efficiently. However, they behave rather constrained. In the case of covert video surveillance employees have no idea of that and feel free, which enables the employer to watch not only their work, but also their demeanour, way of thinking and other personal characteristics.

Covert video surveillance is regarded as illegal, for it runs counter to the constitutional right to privacy. According to the Bigness.ru, in a company specializing in surveillance systems the covert video surveillance has recently become widespread accompanied by overt system.

As it turns out, employees often agree to video surveillance, for they are interested in their own security. Naturally, it brings some discomfort into working process, because they are kept under surveillance every second, but later employees get accustomed to it and feel indifferent.

According to employees, it is always useful to have an all-seeing and alert guardian in the front-office who can detect malefactors and unwelcome visitors. Besides, that enhances the company’s prestige in the eyes of its partners. Video cameras in offices can discipline employees and stimulate them to come to work on time.

It is quite fair to control halls by cameras and in extreme case smoking rooms, but not more than that. “Leave public places at employees’ disposal,” employees claim.

However, sometimes enthusiasm runs away with hard-working employers and they step out of line. For instance, German supermarket group Lidl is known to have spied on its staff. Besides video control its manager employed private detectives who obtained information about personal and even intimate life of its employees.

“The detective agency’s accounts contain several hundreds of pages and report in detail how often its employees go to the toilet within a working day, how they react to customers’ questions and what they talk about between themselves,” Deutsche Welle said. “The accounts also inform about personal and even intimate life of the employees, for example, whether there are any intimate relations between employees, whether they have tattoos and what kind of tattoos, what clothes they wear at work and how they smell, who behaves naïve and who is professionally inappropriate.”

In Russia such a situation is hardly possible, Bigness.ru concluded. It can be explained by the fact that Russian employees are not used to defending their rights and they often agree to all initiatives of their employers.

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