WMU News

Electronic monitoring of employees growing

May 2, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Electronic monitoring of employees by their employers appears to be growing and has gotten the attention of Congress.

Though legislation was introduced in July 2000 to provide some safeguards, there's little employees can do about it at the moment, says Dr. Nancy C. Cornwell, a WMU assistant professor of communication.

"The ease with which employers can now monitor their employees' activity is remarkable," Cornwell says. "They can monitor things right down to keystroke activity, so it's not just the e-mail you send or the Web surfing you do at your office. It's actually keystroke activity and, of course, voice mail. And there are no substantial protections in place for employees. So without that kind of bridling in of employer surveillance, I think that it will grow and I think that's a real concern."

Cornwell says that company monitoring of employees already is more widespread than many people might think.

"In 1998, the American Management Association did a study, and they concluded that for major employers, those with 1,000 employees or more, that approximately 45 percent of those employers were monitoring their employees' electronic communications in one form or another. And when the bill was introduced in the House, there were some congressmen who said that those figures were up around 75 percent now."

Cornwell says the legislation would require companies to inform employees of monitoring activity and how the information gathered would be used, stored and disclosed. But the bill was put on hold because of objections from the business community.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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