MPs and experts back Prospect call for tougher regulation of monitoring tech

10 December 2020

MPs from different parties and experts in the world of work and technology have backed a Prospect letter to the Information Commissioner calling for stronger action to protect workers against the growing use of workplace monitoring technology.

The letter, sent in the wake of the revelation that Microsoft’s Office 365 software included built in monitoring functionality, highlights how more employers are turning to digital solutions to keep an eye on workers, many of whom are now working remotely.

A recent survey showed that one in five employers are now using monitoring software or planning to do so. Surveillance software is increasingly being used at work to check people’s performance, amount of time logged on, speed of response to an email and so on. The group also warns that the use of algorithms in recruitment risks embedding structural bias in the process.

The introduction of such technology without due process could be illegal, however knowledge about the law in this area is weak and, with the technology now widely available, the signatories believe that stronger regulation is required.

Under the Data Protection Act and GDPR, employees are entitled to know that they are being monitored and consulted about the extent and use of their data. But that doesn’t always seem to happen.

The letter calls for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to update its Code on Employment Practices, as well as to review guidance provided on how Data Protection Impact Assessments should be conducted with an emphasis on transparency, consent, and involving trade unions and workers in any decisions relating to the implementation of tech at work.

With the government due to introduce a new Employment Bill in 2021, there will soon be an opportunity for MPs to strengthen the law on monitoring of employees.

Andrew Pakes, Prospect Research Director, said:

“Technology is changing the way we work and are managed. The example of Microsoft introducing monitoring functions demonstrates just how easily we can sleepwalk into a situation where mass surveillance of employees working remotely becomes normalised.

“As we come out of this crisis, technology should be about making our lives better, not introducing a new level of micro-management and intrusion.

“The ICO need to make it much clearer to employers that they have legal duties to consult their workforce before introducing new technology like this, and ultimately we need action in the forthcoming Employment Bill to make sure that our rights as workers keep pace with developments in AI and other new technology.”

Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Digital Minister, said:

“In the Labour Party we believe technology should put people in control, not control them. Government needs to set out a clear legislative framework which supports individual digital rights at home and at work, including where home has become the workplace.”

In a statement, the Women Leading in AI Network said:

“Technology can make our workplaces better and work more flexible without a detrimental effect on productivity.

“With headlines showing women’s workload has increased due to house and childcare commitments, we need to ensure remote and flexible working arrangements do not add to the pressure. We need clarity around what constitutes surveillance and when, or if, it is appropriate.

“Otherwise, this can only lead to embedding systemic bias, (in)direct discrimination and impacts on other rights and freedoms of workers, impinging on health and safety and the right to a private life.”

Read the full letter here


Union for tech workers

For a better, healthier and fairer tech industry.