Who May Be Spying on You ... and Why?
‘Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.’
By Denny Hatch
—Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, 1929
In the NewsH-P’s Dunn Could Face Risks From Testimony
Former Chairman’s Words To Congress May Be Used Against Her in a Trial
When former Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairman Patricia Dunn testified on Capitol Hill last week on the H-P spying scandal, one congressman asked her about some handwritten notes taken by H-P’s former general counsel. The notes indicated Ms. Dunn had been briefed on a ruse by H-P’s investigators to obtain people’s personal phone records in June 2005. Ms. Dunn’s response: “I’ve seen this for the first time now.” Yesterday, Ms. Dunn was booked in the Santa Clara, Calif., sheriff’s office on four felony counts of fraud and conspiracy and released on her own recognizance.
—Peter Waldman, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 6, 2006
On Dec. 30, 2005, The Washington Post told of a vast new surveillance program, GST, authorized by President Bush shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks to “give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.” In addition, the phone records of millions of Americans are being monitored, and suspicious mail to and from overseas destinations is being opened by Homeland Security.
Recently on National Public Radio an expert on the Middle East estimated that 25 percent of the world’s Muslims—or approximately 300 million people—would like to see serious harm come to the United States and a high percentage would be willing to become martyrs in the cause.
The 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the car bomb exploding in the World Trade Center garage in 1993, the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Africa, the assault on the USS Cole in 2000 and calamitous Sept. 11 tragedy all prove that these people mean business.
This is war. In World War II we lived through suspension of certain civil liberties for the duration. Put another way, if various government agencies were NOT monitoring phone records and conversations, financial transactions and questionable e-mail and snail mail, I would be worried.
Whether the Bush administration can legally ignore the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires court approved warrants to search the phone records of Americans is a debate for constitutional scholars and lawyers.
As of this writing, the United States hasn’t been attacked again, although the United Kingdom, Indonesia and Spain have been.
The amassing of these data by government raise at least two serious collateral concerns:
1. How secure are the data? In the Dec. 13, 2005, edition of this e-zine, “Lost Data Threatens Security,” I described how the FBI lost more than 500 laptops and had no idea whether they contained any classified data. “One of the most flagrant computer-losers seems to be the U.S. government,” wrote Philadelphia Inquirer’s Akweli Parker this past Sunday. “In response to a congressional inquiry, the Commerce Department revealed last month that it had lost 1,137 computers since 2001, most of them belonging to the Census Bureau.” I have serious doubts that government data protection systems are as tight as those of, say, TRW/Experiàn, which were described in detail in my Dec. 13 story.
2. What are the ancillary uses of the data? For example, if the CIA discovers vast amounts of money are being moved around the world by American corporations, will the IRS be alerted so that it can go on a fishing expedition? I don’t trust Big Brother.
Individuals Spying on Individuals
To secretly intercept private communications without a court-ordered warrant is illegal under § 2511 of the U.S. Code titled “Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications prohibited.”
The saga of Patricia Dunn’s four-count indictment is especially sad. A former director of Hewlett-Packard, she was elevated to chairman of the board following the firing of Fiorina and was very likely way over her head in terms of vision, experience and management skills. Dunn and four colleagues are accused of (1) conspiracy to commit crime; (2) fraudulent use of wire, radio or television transmissions; (3) taking copying and using computer data; and (4) using personal identifying information without authorization. According to The Wall Street Journal each charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. What makes Dunn’s situation poignant is that during the week of her indictment and arrest, she was scheduled to begin treatment for recurring ovarian cancer.
Like Dunn and her cohorts, Pellicano, Pirro, Kerik all may face legal problems in the future.
The Uncomfortable Dilemma: Should You Spy on Your Employees?
Some years ago, when the telemarketing industry was beginning to deal with what was—and wasn’t—legal, some telephone sales representatives complained that supervisors who listened in on their conversations were violating their privacy. This is no longer an issue today; signed agreements take care of that. For one thing, if a supervisor was to be prohibited from critiquing an employee’s performance, the company might just as well close its doors.
“In a recent survey of 840 U.S. companies by the American Management Association, 60% said they now use some type of software to monitor their employees’ incoming and outgoing e-mail, up from 47% in 2001,” wrote staff reporters for The Wall Street Journal on March 9, 2005. “Other workplace privacy experts place the current percentage even higher.”
My neighbor, who just took a job with a major brokerage company, is forbidden to use the computer on his desk for personal e-mail. We serve on a civic committee here in Philadelphia, and we cannot communicate during business hours. He can call me on the phone, but not use e-mail on his company computer.
At one publishing company I know well—which does not spend time spying on employees’ phone calls, Internet activity or e-mails—the following occurred:
* On a Saturday, the IT guy came in to update the software on all the office computers. On one computer he found an illegal program used for hacking. On another was a large cache of pornography. Both individuals, who had signed a corporate Internet and computer policy, were fired.
* A young Turk e-mailed to a blogger a blistering criticism of the ethics of a company in the business. The was posted and spread instantly around the Internet. The company in question was a large advertiser with the publisher. The kid was fired for violating his employment agreement.
The Time Wasters
According to a 2005 survey by AOL and compensation specialist Salary.com, the average American worker spends 2.09 hours per day surfing the Internet, conducting personal business on the phone, job hunting or chit-chatting in the in copier room or smoking on fire escape. This doesn’t include lunch. Missouri takes the prize as the highest goof-off state with workers blowing an average of 3.2 hours per day. Estimated total annual cost to U.S. business: $759 billion.
At the same time, in this past Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, in a story titled, “This time, it’s personal: The tricky business of private cell phone calls at work,” Patrick Kampert wrote that:
Studies show that Americans are spending more time on the job than ever. If you add in the electronic monitoring equipment of cell phones and BlackBerrys, which let employers reach out and touch workers long after 5 p.m., it’s only natural that employees need to transact some personal business during the time they are tethered to their desks.
I thank my lucky stars that I don’t run a company—or have people working for me—so I don’t have to deal with this knotty and unpleasant problem.
I’m not a lawyer or a HR expert, but following is my thinking.
Takeaway Points to Consider:* If I had people working for me, I would expect a certain amount of personal business to be handled in the workplace—doctors’ appointments, child issues, dinner dates, etc. For example, I would rather have an employee spend the lunch break in the office ordering merchandise on the Internet and answering personal e-mails than running around a shopping mall only to return frazzled and out of sorts.
* Presumably a hospitable office environment encourages people not to go out. This in turn should foster productivity.
* If a worker is talking on a cellphone, chances are company business isn’t being discussed. I realize people have lives, friends, families and schedules outside the workplace. I wouldn’t see an occasional cellphone call as a big deal.
* But what about the chronic goof-offs who spend hours surfing the Net, playing fantasy sports or Texas hold ‘em? If they meet or exceed their work quotas, does it matter what else they do, so long as they don’t give away company secrets or make fools of themselves? If they don’t have work quotas, I would set them and monitor the results.
* Having people on staff to spy on employees’ e-mails and phone conversations gives me the willies. What would be the return on investment in their salaries and benefits? What kind of creepy people would take such a job? What would happen to office morale and productivity if employees discovered corporate Big Brother was constantly looking over their shoulders?
* If I were running a company, I think I would make it very clear that no one’s spying on people but that the central computer system automatically saves everything—incoming and outgoing e-mails, instant messaging, phone records and Internet usage and that all of this information easily is retrievable. It seems to me this should put a damper on profligate time wasting.
* What’s your feeling about this, and what’s your corporate policy?
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition:Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
§ 2511. “Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications prohibited”
Secretly Track Everything on a Computer
Locating People Using GPS Enabled Cellphones