back to article Boeing guards its right to tail employees

As Americans fret over the Bush Administration's efforts to eavesdrop on their telephone and internet communications, many of us forget how common it is for employers to spy on their workers. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is here to remind us of that sad fact, with a story reporting on a program within Boeing that tracks …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Whose computer is it anyway?

    Boeing, or any other company, has every right to install whatever they bloody wish on company property. IT'S THEIR COMPUTER!!! If you want to surf without being spied upon, then use your own bloody computer!!!

    And for anyone who thinks they aren't being watched while at work or while using a company laptop, keep dreaming.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    It's naive to associate government wiretapping with corporate security enforcement.

    Good grief, don't be so naive as to associate illegal wiretapping with corporate computing security and policy enforcement. Did you forget that every single time an employee logs into a company computer, they are reminded that they are using company equipment and their activities can be monitored without their knowledge?

    I'm glad you're bringing visibility to the fact that employees are monitored, though. Maybe if they were more aware of that fact, they'd stop downloading peer-to-peer software, games, music, and DVD-ripping software from the internet onto their company computers. The type of users who are being monitored are the among greatest threats to corporate information security.

  3. Eduard Coli

    Tail to an ass

    Company equipment fine but tailing an employee off grounds smacks of invasion.

    You can bet they did not do it to the folks in the boardroom or with the three letter titles even though they both have more opportunity to do damage to the company then this guy.

  4. JayB

    Corporate Rights

    Every company has the right to monitor what it's employees when they are in the office on conducting company business, but no company, and I mean none, should have any right to monitor the actions or inactions of it's staff out of the office and out of company time.

    Oh, incidentally, this applies to governments! If your movements were being tracked covertly by the Govt. would you be so complacent Anon Coward?

    Bugger the Paris angle, bugger the iFanboi angle and frankly, bugger Boeing!!!

  5. anarchic-teapot

    Dear exclamation mark abuser

    "And for anyone who thinks they aren't being watched while at work or while using a company laptop, keep dreaming."

    Keep taking the medication, lad. There are countries where spying (keylogging, recording websites visited) on your employees without their knowledge is illegal.

    Anyway, it's Friday evening. Where 's the large-amounts-of-beer angle?

  6. Anonymous Coward

    who cares what employees feel?

    Employees you are all dogs! You master can treat you whatever way he wants to.

  7. Ashley

    So what?

    I don't actually think that this matter should be discussed - monitoring of the employees is absolutely legal, moreover it is logical to monitor employees. Our company is monitoring us woth PC ACME monitoring software, we all know about this. Personally I was forewarned about that before signing any papers. I am almost sure that each of us, being on the place of his(our) boss would give an order to install such monitoring software as PC ACME on EVERY pc:)

  8. Anonymous Coward

    So what - I sold you and you sold me.

    "I am almost sure that each of us, being on the place of his(our) boss would give an order to install such monitoring software".

    What is interesting is the number of people, and not just people from the US, who are comfortable in accepting that their employer is entitled to spy on them.

    There is a view that the employer relationship involves a surrender of autonomy. It is people with that mindset who will be complaisant with creeping erosions of personal autonomy and privacy, and in due course, lessening of human rights.

    The rest of us should meantime resist.

  9. Morely Dotes

    The law works both ways

    If you think you're being stalked, in most parts of the US you have the right to use as much force as necessary to discourage the stalker. That includes deadly force; personally, I start with pepper spray and work up through Tasers to the .50 Colt Desert Eagle, but then, I'm a moderate.

    It's not as if a company goon is going to *tell* you he's been hired by your boss to stalk you, after all.

  10. Curtis W. Rendon

    @Whose computer is it anyway?

    If it's the boss' then he better get his shiney ass down here and use it, he's got a project overdue!

  11. Hate2Register
    Jobs Horns

    America: Land of the Spook

    In Europe we have laws against recording stuff without the individual's permission. Of course that means we get more leaks and whistleblowers, but hey, maybe we like it like that.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course, in Europe...'re not allowed to post on the internet 'inciting to hatred'.

    But I digress.

    Some of the programs at Boeing are of the 'beyond top-secret' nature, and I'm guessing the rules are different in that game. Still, after-hours snooping is a pretty bold step. I'd be interested to hear more rather than just 'it happened' - what did this guy do for a living, what department was he with, etc?

  13. Simon

    6 of 1, half a dozen of the other...

    Where do you draw the line?

    Employees have a right to individual freedom and privacy...

    Employers have a right to protect their IP and reputation...

    I highly doubt Boeing sends out hordes of PI's to randomly follow their employees around, on the off-chance that someone is doing something to damage their business...And if the guy was fired over what the PI found out, then he more than likely signed a document saying that what he was doing is a sackable offence...In which case he can only bemoan the fact that he didnt have the foresight to work out how seriously his employer takes that particular digression...

    Personally, I think any surveillance inside the workplace and on company property goes (with the obvious exception of cameras in bathrooms), however following employees around offsite is a bit over the top...People are more likely to be on their best behaviour when they know they may be watched...

  14. Herbys
    Thumb Down


    I don't care they monitored his activities on the local computer. But when they start reading information the employee was accessing on other sites (like his or her email account) they've crossed the line.

    Think of this. If you open a personal letter while on the office, does your employer have the right to read it just because it was on your desk?

    They have right (in some countries) to monitor local activity and files on the computer, but accessing third party sites with personal information is out of bounds.

  15. Mark Roome

    All your rights are belong to us!

    That is all.

  16. david mccormick

    Company policy

    I'm stuck at work thirteen hours a day on the days I work so the internet is a useful distraction in the lulls. I'm not naive enough to think that the computer I'm using to write this goes direct to the internet without going through a company owned server first.That is why I don't surf porn, movies or music whilst I'm at work. (Hi to the IT people in there little office if you're reading this). Nor would I be stupid enough to use my works e-mail to send sensitive information to competitors. It's common sense and just in case I didn't have any, the company also makes you sign a policy on internet use so you are aware that inappropriate use will get you fired.

    However once you leave work, whatever you do, as long as it's legal, is nobodies business but your own, and any company that thinks it has the right to follow you is morally wrong.

  17. JeffyPooh

    If it is just a keystroke logger...

    ...toss in some Alt characters, mix in a bit of mouse-driven cut&paste and cursor repositioning, and top it off with a bit of on-screen keyboard input. Make 'em work at it. After three days of deciphering they'll figure out it is just a comment posting to The Reg.

  18. yeah, right.

    privacy vs profit

    Yes, it is the company's computers, and the company's time. So long as they have adequately warned their employees, and haven't buried the warnings in a stack of 100 pages of employment manual.

    However, once the employee is off work and off site, the rights of the company to invade the privacy of their employees should stop. If the company believes the employee is acting illegally (not just against company policy), then let them involve the police. Otherwise, it's just invasion of privacy and should be punished. Harshly.

    Employees are not slaves. Damn close, but still not. It's time companies were reminded of that fact. Privacy is quickly vanishing in the USA (and it's almost completely gone in the UK), it would be nice to slow down the pace a bit.

  19. James Cleveland



  20. Marco


    "Following employees around offsite" is just a "bit over the top"?

    Dude, already when a company so badly feels that it can't trust its employees it has to monitor all activity on their machines, its time for them to think about what goes wrong in the company-employee relationship.

    This is a simple question of productivity and economics: A satisfied employee that feels he is being trusted identifies more with a company, will work better and not spill the beans about internals.

    Controlling him instills a feeling of distrust, lower productivity and the cure may at first take the symptoms away, but eventually will lead to what the employer so much wants to prevent.

    If you try to have a well working relationship with your entire workforce, you may still get one or the other black sheep, however, when you try to control them in their entirety the long term trade off in lowered productivity is worse than the damage done by a few individuals.

  21. Brett Brennan
    IT Angle

    What you get is what you get

    Having worked for a FORTUNE 100 firm for many years before going indie, I was VERY surprised at what other employees did with their company-issued computers.

    The underlying fact was: with the exception of myself, my wife and two of our friends, the rest of our corporate associates used their company supplied PC for ALL their personal business/pleasure. The reason: they did NOT OWN a personal computer!

    This stunned me at the time: we all were VERY highly paid (bonuses as large as our base salary), and could easily afford a personal laptop or desktop at home. Yet the general consensus was "hey, the company GAVE this to me, so I'm not going to spend MY money for a computer!"

    No one (except the aforementioned) felt they had to pay for an Internet connection if the company gave them one. I mean, even at US$60/mo (for a DSL/cable line back then), it wasn't like they couldn't afford it. (We were paying US$300/mo for a decent commercial-grade symmetric line to our home - I figured that it was worth the cost to make working from home as easy as working from the office.)

    This reflected greed and a lack of respect from BOTH parties. Screw the company for all you can get/screw the employee for all you can get. The employee runs an eBay store from corporate equipment; the company makes the employee get up at 04:30 to attend a useless 05:00 meeting - because the "boss" lives in Ohio, but his team lives in Los Angeles, and he wants to leave early to play golf.

    (BTW, HR was the worst about disrespecting the employees. After a week of HR phone calls at 04:00 because that's when HR started to work on the east coast, I asked my HR rep to please contact me later. Her response: "Why don't you live in Ohio like the rest of us?" 'Nuff said...)

  22. Mark


    So when can I spy on my boss.

    Ohh, and since I'm a shareholder in a few compnies, that means I own it. So, lets get hold of that computer of the CEO. And *that's* not your wife! Stalking? Me? Nah, I'm just making sure you aren't wasting company resources...


  23. Pete

    It's simple

    Just leave an encrypted usb key lying around, wait until the goons have taken/stolen it, then call MI6/CIA/SIS and tell them you have uncovered a animal-pr0n rights activist cell.

  24. Richard

    Company Apologists: is accessing Gmail under false pretenses OK?

    The article stated that the company detectives access the employee's Gmail account as part of the investigation. I am going to make the grand assumption that they did not go and ask the employee "May we read all of your email?" before then did this, and obtained his login credentials via interception. Monitoring communication over business equipment is one thing, but to use the information to log into a private account under false pretenses is quite another thing. When they logged into his Gmail using his captured login credentials, they crossed the line. If they wanted to read his Gmail, they should have been required to obtain a court order. There is something out there called "due process" which is anathema to you company fan boys, but essential to a civil society.

  25. Corrine
    Thumb Down

    Is this even legal?

    I can't speak for the rest of the country, but recording my conversations (email counts) without my express consent is a crime in my state. (Informing me alone only counts if the person doing the recording is involved in the conversation).

    Never stopped my work from doing it of course.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Democracy - but only within narrow limits

    First up, Anonymous - yes, you with the first comment on this thread - when I make a telephone call I do so using equipment that belongs to the phone company. But that does not give it a right to spy on my conversations. Ownership of kit, in general, does not necessarily confer the right to watch it being used. Consider a health club that allows customers to use its showers, for instance. Does ownership of a shower give the management the right to watch people using it (covertly if they wish)? Or would they face a prison sentence if they did?

    In general, I am always impressed by the vast gulf between our shiny democratic ideals and the reality of everyday life. Americans, who pride themselves in living in The Land of the Free, willingly submit to the Stalinist conditions that prevail in typical corporations. How often have we heard, as yet another person who was foolish enough to take the right to free speech seriously is hounded to desperation, that it is only the government that must respect constitutional rights? Employers, colleagues, and other people at large are under no such obligation. As a result, our prized liberties are worth much less than most of us probably believe.

  27. Andy

    Missing the point, perhaps

    Certainly my employers have some rights to spy on me, at least at work. And it *is* their computer.

    But if they want me to be more than a box-ticking jerk, they need to engage my interest, respect and loyalty. Spying on me is exactly the way not to do that.

    They pay the money, they make the choice -- robot or loyal team-member.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    @ David

    Hi David, by the way... 13 hours? surely you jest! Also, would it hurt to clean up your desk area a little bit?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I'm sure walmart done this at one point too

    Also, when i worked on Helpdesk, if i was given a pound for how many times i had to remind users that the laptops where not theirs, but were the companies, i would be a rich man.

    One guy started shouting at me that it was his computer, it was just supplied by the company and that i should not be able to map his C Drive. 2 days later his admin rights were removed and a week later he was a desktop user...

    And, who doesn’t like reading the emails on the Exchange Server from time to time, it brightens up and otherwise dull day.

  30. Spleen

    Easy solution

    1) Do all the work expected of you.

    2) Don't write a blog about your work. No-one f***ing cares about your job or your colleagues.

    And you probably won't get investigated. It used to be that if you walked down the high street shouting "I hate my employer! Acme Corp is a terrible company! My boss' secretary is a dyke!" you'd expect to be sacked, but thanks to the Interwebs common sense no longer applies. No-one cares about your blog anyway.

  31. jonathan keith
    Black Helicopters

    Right - that's it!

    I'm not buying any more of Boeing's products until they change their ways.

  32. Anonymous Coward


    If I found that my employer had been secretly following me outside of work, I would begin filling body bags with the perpetrators.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boeing's Ferengi rules of aquisition

    Employees are steps on the ladder of wealth, don't be afraid to step on them.

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