The modern work environment was already becoming more than a bit Orwellian, with employees being electronically spied on by their bosses to ensure productivity, but now the corporate push for total information awareness of workers is hitting new levels of creepiness.
According to a report in Bloomberg, companies are now using biosurveillance technologies to monitor workers. Workers at some firms now wear biosensors that let managers know an employee’s physical and mental state by monitoring vital signs such as heart rate, skin temperature, and the pace of their breathing.
The technology is reportedly being adapted from, among other places, the defense industry. Firms such as Equivital are taking biosensor technology developed for battlefield environments and repurposing them for civilian use.
Though such comprehensive and intrusive monitoring systems were originally intended for a battlefield environment to help medics and other responders have an improved medical picture when treating someone suffering life-threatening injuries, that technology can now be used to pressure workers into meeting production goals.
The obvious objection to these worker surveillance systems is that they are a violation of someone’s privacy rights. Why should your boss get to know how you feel about your job or what kind of health issues you might have?
Of course, it is not hard to see how companies will get around the invasion of privacy concerns — if you have a problem, then you can work somewhere else.
Unfortunately for the privacy-minded, if the technology proves to provide a competitive edge every firm will likewise adopt the practice of biosurveilling workers, which will make the refusal to submit to biosurveillance a de facto disqualification from employment in many places. Submitting to biosurveillance could easily become such a standard practice that refusing to do so could disqualify someone from receiving public benefits on the grounds that they were not actively seeking employment.
Many firms already demand that employees provide their social media passwords in order to be considered for employment, so why not a trial period of employment using biosensors? Shouldn’t a company know if an employee can physically handle their job to the utmost detail? If you don’t like it, leave.
Though the use of biosurveillance also raises the concern that employers will be using this biodata to screen out employees with health issues, if a potential employee signs off on allowing the employer to access to this information or even share this information it would be hard to argue there was ever a HIPAA violation.
Employers are already allowed to drug test employees, why not stress test them too?