"Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?" (Foucault 1979:228).


In the United States it is estimated that around twenty million workers are electronically monitored on the job. This monitoring runs the gamut from keystroke counting; telephone service observation whereby statistics are gathered on the duration, time between, and number of calls; telephone call accounting; "peeking" on to workers computer screens and into electronic mail; and the use of "active" or "magic" badges that can keep track of an employee's movements and locations. Increasingly, computers are being used to set tasks and performances for all levels of worker.

While there are limits on the use of surveillance techniques by government agencies such as the FBI, the private employer is free from meaningful constraints:

"They may view employees on closed-circuit TV; tap their phones, E-mail, and network communications; and rummage through their computer files with or without employee knowledge or consent--24 hours a day." (Piller 1993:6)

The parameters of debate on this issue have been primarily defined by business interests. Proponents of the electronic monitoring of workers regard it as an efficient means to manage a modern enterprise, ensuring quality customer service, and increasing productivity. While it is recognized that abuses may occur, these can be avoided by a participatory introduction of the new technology allowing the workers some input into the design and implementation of the monitoring systems. Furthermore, regular feedback with the "objective" results to employees enables them to improve performance.

In opposition, the arguments against electronic monitoring point to real and systematic abuses - the creation of "electronic sweatshops." Employees face increased stress through constant surveillance - real or perceived. Results gathered from monitoring are used to determine pay and promotion. However, these opponents have still accepted the need for electronic monitoring, but seek to curb its excesses and ensure a more equitable balance of power between employer and employee. This approach is apparent in the current legislative attempts to address the issue; the Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act (HR 1900 and S 984).

A more radical approach to the issue of monitoring and surveillance in the workplace can be derived from the work of Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault. Utilizing Bentham's idea for a prison architecture called the Panopticon, Foucault shows that architecture which allows for constant surveillance - or at least the perception of constant surveillance - "coerces by means of observation." The worker, prisoner, soldier or student is not only transformed by observation but internalizes the values of the overseeing organization and becomes an element in their own repression.

Using Panoptic power as a theoretical model, electronic monitoring becomes the means by which employers can inexpensively assert their control in the workplace, and still allow a measure of participation and employee input. Increased productivity and improved customer service may be the professed goals of employers but the sub-text is an attempt to reassert their traditional prerogatives in the workplace. Therefore attempts to curb employer excess fails to address the real issue of power between labor and capital.


Section II traces the current parameters of electronic monitoring in the workplace - types of monitoring and monitored workers; the rationale by business for its implementation; objections to monitoring; an outline of the current legal situation regarding monitoring and legislative attempts to protect workers from surveillance. Section III introduces Bentham's concept of the Panopticon and discusses Foucault's adoption and adaption of the idea. Section IV uses the developed theoretical model to analyses monitoring in the new technological workplace.


Extent of Monitoring

In a report from the Office of Technology Assessment electronic monitoring is defined as:

"the computerized collection, storage, analysis, and reporting of information about employees' productive activities." (OTA 1987:27)

American business has always monitored and surveilled its workers. Before 1913 there were mechanical keystroke counters ("cyclometers") for typewriters, and assorted methods for measuring typing output. Telephone operators have had their calls listened to, and their speed measured, since the 1920s (Attewell 1987). However, what makes the present situation unique, is the sheer scale of the monitoring; the extent to which the overseer is unobtrusive and the capabilities of modern technology for the "storage, analysis and reporting" of the gathered information.

The precise number of workers who are monitored on their jobs is difficult to discern. In 1987, the OTA suggested that six million office workers were evaluated using computer generated statistics (OTA 1987:1). By 1993, some analysts had twenty-six million employees having their work tracked electronically, and ten million of these have work evaluated, and pay based, on statistics collected through monitoring (DeTienne 1993:33; Nussbaum 1992:21). A more localized and informal study in the New York metropolitan area found that 40% of companies used some form of electronic monitoring (Bylinsky 1991).

Types of Monitoring

There is a wide-range of possible monitoring devices and techniques open to the modern employer. Computer-based monitoring automatically records statistics about the work of the employee who is using a computer. This is particularly prevalent with data entry operators, as it allows the employer to count the gross number of keystrokes, the number of minutes on the machine, gross keystrokes per hour, stroke rate for each job, the number of jobs, and the number of corrections of errors (Danaan 1990:18). An important element of the whole process of data collection is that figures can then be used to compare and evaluate employees.

This type of monitoring of employee performance is often used in unison with telephone service observation. While a supervisor may be listening into the actual telephone conversation, the computer captures information about the length of the call, time between calls, and the number of calls taken in a specific time period. Apart from its use in evaluating employees such systems enable the employer to implement a distribution system, automatically routing calls to free operators. An additional telephone-based form of monitoring is telephone call accounting systems that automatically calculate the time, duration and destination of a call.

In occupations such as flight reservation/sales agents all these forms of monitoring can be used in order to calculate a performance evaluation. In one example, an agent for an airline company is meant to handle 275 incoming calls a day, with a 90% booking ratio. Bad productivity, perhaps resulting in disciplinary action, is deemed to be calls below this daily quota, calls greater than 215 seconds, more than twelve minutes away from the computer to use the bathroom or too much time between calls (Danaan 1990:23).

Increasingly, freight haulers use computers to monitor speed, fuel consumption, engine idle time and length of stops (Piller 1993). The dual purpose of technology becomes apparent in this example - it is used for safety, or adherence to predetermined management performance goals.

Another trend is the monitoring of desktop computers. An ad for CloseUp networking software exclaims:

"look in on Sue's computer screen . . . In fact, Sue doesn't even know you're there! Hot key again and off you go on your rounds of the company. Viewing one screen after another, helping some, watching others. All from the comfort of your chair." (Bylinsky 1991)

Networking Dynamics Corporation of Glendale makes Peek and Spy - "Peek" requires employee approval whereas "Spy" does not. American Airlines installed remote-screen surveillance software to supplement its listening operations at Dallas-Fort Worth. This additional capability allows supervisors to monitor data entry as well as the actual telephone conversation (Bylinsky 1991). It would seem that as LANs proliferate in the workplace the potential for this type of monitoring will be greatly enhanced.

The final types of monitoring are those that can determine an employee's actual location using a badge worn by the employee, or through video surveillance. Work at Olivetti has produced a multimedia system called Pandora. It consists of a group of networked workstations that provide for real-time and recorded digital audiovisual information. It is described thus:

" The simplest use of Pandora is just observation. The staff at Olivetti Research can view remote offices through video cameras mounted over each Pandora station. Although it's perfectly permissible to peek at the scene surveyed by another Pandora station, a user can't listen to that station until somebody at that end lets him -- i.e., accepts the call. " (Hopper 1992:99)

The "Active Badge" monitors the movement of people in a building. The badge contains an infrared transmitter that every fifteen seconds transmits a 48-bit word, which is the wearer's unique ID. The potential for abuse is obvious. Information about the badge wearer is held in a central database and includes security clearance, preferred computer applications, right or left handedness and "even how the user takes his coffee." (Hopper 1992:99).

The future holds the prospect of yet more sophisticated forms of monitoring. The lowering of costs and the increase in technical refinement will act as an incentive for business to introduce and upgrade its surveillance techniques. Computer surveillance program sales were at $175m in 1991 and expected to grow at 50% per year until 1996 (Bylinsky 1991). Taken in concert with the declining rates of unionization, and the consequent effect on the power of organized labor, the potential barriers to more monitoring appear weak.

Types of Occupations

At present the bulk of electronic performance monitoring (EPM) takes place among clerical workers in financial services, insurance, telecommunications, federal and state government and occupations that require extensive customer service using the telephone - i.e., airline reservation clerks, and telephone company operators.

The types of jobs that are more suited to electronic monitoring are those that are short-cycle "production" jobs, where a

"limited number of standardized tasks are performed repeatedly to produce some information-based end-product." (OTA 1987:28)

The characteristics of these occupations are that the work is of a routinized nature, divided into discrete and measurable units; workers generally require little training and consequently there is little difference between experienced and unexperienced workers; there is generally an ample labor supply and finally, data collection is straightforward.

However, as the means of monitoring becomes more sophisticated the scope of its reach widens. Increasingly, it is being applied to professional jobs with a more quantifiable output. This ranges from computer programmers to stockbrokers and loan officers. For example at Charles Schwab brokerage, the stockbrokers are listened to via computerized voice-recording systems (Bylinsky 1991). While this is used to comply with securities regulations, the company also uses computer-generated performance statistics as a management tool to increase productivity through inter-broker competition.


A particularly controversial element to electronic monitoring is the means of implementation. When employers unilaterally introduce electronic monitoring, with little or no participation by the workforce, there is resentment, increased levels of stress and perhaps not even any increases in productivity. Some suggest that these effects can be avoided or reduced if the employer involves the employee in the design and implementation of the monitoring system (OTA 1987; Westin 1992).

Then once in place attitudes toward the system depend on "fairness" - the performance standards, the electronic monitoring itself and the use of the gathered statistics. In the latter case the collected data can be used for training and feedback, to determine pay and promotion and for disciplinary measures.

However, the debate on the issue of implementation fails to consider the reality of power relations in the workplace. Often the demands for worker participation extend no further than creating a working consensus around the issue of monitoring. Questions of control of the workplace and whether electronic monitoring should even be introduced are never open for debate. This confines the issue to what is the most effective means of implementation from the perspective of the employer, rather than fundamental questions of worker control.

Business Rationale

It is instructive to analyze the rationale used by business interests for the implementation of new technological means to monitor the workforce. The general rationale, as expressed by the CBEMA (the Computer Business and Equipment Manufacturers' Association) is that,

"the measurement of work by computer is a legitimate management tool that should be used wisely. Used appropriately, monitoring and related techniques, such as incentive pay or promotion based on productivity, can increase both an organizations effectiveness and the employee's ability to advance." (Lund 1992:54)

More specifically, monitoring helps to ensure that the customer receives quality service - the Telemarketing Association describes its monitoring as "quality of service telemarketing monitoring" (Direct Marketing 1993:6). The use of monitoring allows the employer to protect employee safety - i.e., video surveillance in parking lots - while computer monitoring can aid in the fight against employee fraud and dishonesty. In an interesting justification for monitoring Ehrlich (1993) states,

"the increasing reliance on new technologies in the American workplace has led to a real need for employers to monitor their employee's use of these technologies." (ibid:5)

The same author sums up the new nirvana of the electronic workplace:

"through the use of electronic technology, American companies are able to guarantee their customers receive a quality good or service in a timely manner. They are also better able to enhance employee safety, protect employer and employee property, improve accounting efficiency, provide perquisites and benefits to employees, enhance employee convenience and prevent fraud." (Ehrlich 1993:1)

In fact, electronic monitoring becomes an essential part of America's drive to remain competitive in the global economy. In his opposition to the Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act, Lawrence Fineran of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) regarded the legislation as interfering

"with the ability of modern and future equipment that can assist domestic companies in their fight to remain competitive ... otherwise the United States may as well let the information age pass it by." (Piller 1993:7)

The protection for the worker in these scenarios comes from the workings of the free market system. Unless employers are more sensitive to the needs of the monitored workers there will a mushrooming of workers compensation claims and medical costs because of stress-related illnesses. In addition labor turnover and absenteeism will increase as workers move into other occupation (DeTienne 1993:37). This view of the self-regulating free market for labor seems particularly unrealistic in fragile economic times.

Objections to Monitoring

The official AFL-CIO objection to monitoring is that:

"Electronic surveillance invades workers' privacy, erodes their sense of dignity and frustrates their efforts to do high-quality work by a single- minded emphasis on speed and other purely quantitative measurements." (Lund 1992:54)

Objections to computer monitoring are threefold. First, on the issue of privacy, monitoring is seen as intrusive and does not allow for individual differences in work style. Secondly, there is the question of fairness. How is it implemented? Are there reasonable standards, and the opportunity to contest records? What is the level of worker participation in design and implementation? Is the information gathered substantive or transactional? In other words is the information collected analyzed for its content or merely for quantitative reasons.

Finally there are quality of work life concerns. What is the incidence of stress, or stress-related illness? (OTA 1987:8). Electronic monitoring produces pressure to perform. The range of stressful working conditions related to monitoring include: heavy workload; repetitive tasks; social isolation; and fear of job loss. These are exacerbated by the lack of job involvement or participation, and lack of organizational support. The OTA report describes the situation thus:

"when jobs are redesigned to facilitate computerized monitoring of work performance, they are also reshaped in ways that increase the degree to which management directs both the place and the method of work. This lack of personal control, in turn, places workers at significantly greater risk of ill health." (OTA 1987:54-55)

Therefore there are "sociotechnical" triggers that can create direct psychological effects, besides generally adverse working conditions (Smith et al 1992:18). The introduction of rationalized and standardized production methods can contribute to stress because of its continual and incessant nature. Work variety, intellectual challenges and growth potential are seriously diminished when

"responsibility for making decisions about performance is embedded in the information system." (Amick and Smith 1992:11)

In a study of worker stress for the Communication Workers of America (Smith 1992), the results indicated that,

"the monitored employees reported higher workload, less workload variation and greater workload dissatisfaction than the unmonitored employees. The monitored employees also reported less control over their jobs ... less fairness of their work standards and more frequent interactions with difficult customers." (Smith et al. 1992:21)

Monitored workers reported more somatic health complaints: musculoskeletal, psychological, and psychosomatic problems (See Table 1). However, what is also instructive about these results are the unacceptably high levels of health complaints for even unmonitored service representatives.

Table 1. Somatic health complaints of monitored and unmonitored employees (percent reporting a complaint) - service representatives.

Somatic complaints			Monitored	Unmonitored

Loss of feeling in fingers/wrists 36 23
Stiff or sore wrists 39 19
Pain or stiffness in shoulders 72 71
Shoulder soreness 72 61
Pain or stiffness in arms/legs 64 55
Neck pain into shoulder/arm/hand 58 44
Neck pressure 80 66
Back pain 74 77
Racing or pounding heart 58 42
Acid indigestion 67 56
Stomach pains 50 48
Headaches 90 94
Depression 78 67
Severe fatigue or exhaustion 79 66
Extreme anxiety 68 57
High tension 84 76
(Smith 1992)

While there is still debate over the incidence of stress and other health-related problems (Lund 1992), the circumstantial and anecdotal evidence (Danaan 1990) has been used as a major building block in opposition to electronic monitoring.

Law and Legislation

Presently workers have few legal avenues to address the issue of workplace electronic monitoring. The underlying principle of employment in the United States is that of "employment at will," so that,

"in the absence of a specific agreement to the contrary, an employer has an absolute right to discharge an employee for any reason, and the employee has a correlative right to resign for any reason." (OTA 1987:101)

Generally, new monitoring technologies have been seen as extensions of traditional management prerogatives, leaving workers the opportunity to organize and collective bargain over workplace issues. The result has been that,

"Employees currently have few legal tools available to combat electronic monitoring. Policymakers have left the issue to the free market, which is only partially encumbered by unions. Consequently, employers are free to implement monitoring systems in virtually any manner." (Harvard Law Review 1991:1904)

As a private employee there are minimal constitutional rights to privacy. The principle of State action in the fourteenth amendment gives limited constitutional privacy rights to those in the private sector. Even for public employees and those states that have explicit privacy provisions in their constitutions the difficulty in claiming an invasion of privacy revolves around the test of a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the workplace. While the fourth amendment provision against search and seizure is applicable to persons and not just property there are two elements to the protection: the subject's reasonable expectation of privacy, and if this is satisfied whether the search itself was objectively reasonable and therefore permissible (Barker 1992:1117).

There is the potential for action under the common law tort of invasion of privacy, which has four distinct torts - intrusion, disclosure, false light, and appropriation. In particular the case law around the "intrusion into seclusion" indicates that the employee must prove a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that the intrusion must be into a matter in which the employee has a right of privacy. This latter element is problematic in a employer- employee relationship. The public nature of the workplace would certainly mitigate against this, as would the nature of the monitoring system that applied to many as opposed to a single person (Harvard Law Review 1991). Finally, implicit or explicit consent to monitoring would vitiate employee claims.

Given the limited nature of constitutional and tort protections against invasion of privacy there are other - again restricted - worker protections. Electronic monitoring would be illegal if used to prevent workers organizing into labor unions. As electronic monitoring is used primarily for clerical workers, who are predominantly women, it may be deemed discriminatory. If used against whistleblowers there is some protection for federal employees against reprisals under the "merit system of principles."

There are wiretapping statutes that forbid the interception of contents of telephone calls by government and private persons except under judicial authorization. However, there are two exemptions: the business exemption that allows calls to be intercepted in the normal course of business; and if consent is given then monitoring is permissible. There may be a limit on the extent to which an employer can monitor the substance of personal calls, but this really is a minor restriction on the range of telephone monitoring allowable in the workplace.

Finally, Workers Compensation Laws may act as a substitute for employer tort liability, allowing workers to claim that the stress injuries maybe compensable. However some states do not recognize psychological effects as compensable injuries caused by stress, while others require that the stress be unusual or in excess of everyday life and employment. As monitoring becomes more commonplace this becomes increasingly difficult to prove (OTA 1987).

Proposed Legislation

In the 103rd Congress legislation has been reintroduced that addresses some of the issues of electronic monitoring in the workplace. The Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act (HR 1900 and S 984) specifies that employers must provide prior written notice to employees describing the forms of monitoring to be used; the personal data to be collected; times that monitoring occurs; the use to be made of data collected; interpretation of collected information if it effects the employees; existing production standards and the methods used for determining them.

Periodic or random monitoring would only be allowable against employees who have worked at the company less than sixty days. Monitoring would not be allowable for employees with more than five years of cumulative employment with an employer. For those employees between sixty days and five years monitoring could occur for two hours a week as long as there was notification at least twenty-four hours but not more than seventy-two hours in advance. Exception to the notice requirement is possible if an employer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Employees would have a reasonable opportunity to review all the personal data obtained by electronic monitoring, no action could be taken against an employee on the basis of this personal data obtained by monitoring. In addition "data shall not be used as sole basis for evaluation or production quotas." Finally, the data collected is confined to the employee's work.

Predictably, business interests have regarded the legislation as an unwarranted constriction of their legitimate ability to set work expectations, evaluate performance or discipline employees. For them the Act,

"assumes widespread employer abuse of workplace innovations. However, the vast majority of American employers use electronic workplace innovations judiciously and unobtrusively to serve legitimate business needs." (Ehrlich 1993:15)

It is uncertain whether the Act will be passed, but in any case the process of compromise necessary to ensure passage through Congress would inevitably water-down its provisions. However, fundamentally the legislative approach does not - and could not - address the underlying issues of unequal power within capitalist enterprises, and the consequent ability of capital to set the parameters of "legitimate" debate, dissent and potential for the improvement of working conditions. It is hard to oppose the legislation as it would certainly improve conditions for workers and impose constraints on the almost unfettered power of the employer. However, as Gandy has stated:

"surveillance works through its ability to maintain the internalization of the rules. Legislation that protects against occasional "abuses" of the surveillance merely provides a social justification for its extension in this "improved" form." (Gandy 1989:73)

To move beyond the accepted wisdom that "computer monitoring is only as noxious as the management system itself" (Griffith 1993), it is necessary to have a more radical approach to the question of surveillance; the reason for its introduction and its effect on the balance of power in the workplace.

Sections III and IV introduce the ideas of Bentham and Foucault with regard to surveillance, and apply them to the modern workplace.


Bentham's Panopticon

The English Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham developed the idea of the Panopticon in the late eighteenth century. Derived from the Greek for all- seeing, the Panopticon was an architectural design for a prison that would allow prisoners to be observed at all times, but with the observer remaining invisible. While the original design was for a prison, Bentham makes clear on the title page its applicability to other situations where "inspection" is required:

"Panopticon; or, The Inspection House: containing the idea of a new principle of construction applicable to any sort of establishment, in which persons of any description are to be kept under inspection; and in particular to Penitentiary-Houses, Prisons, Poor Houses, Lazarettos, Houses of Industry, Manufactories, Hospitals, Work-Houses, Mad-Houses, and Schools." (Bentham 1962)

Architecturally, there is a circular building with prisoners in cells in the circumference. The cells are divided so that prisoners cannot communicate with each other, and in the center is the "inspectors lodge." All of the cells are visible to the Inspector because of the lodge's position and also through the use of back lighting in the cells.

The essence of the idea is:

"in the centrality of the inspector's situation, combined with the well- known and most effectual contrivances for seeing without being seen." (Bentham 1962:44)

Therefore the inspector can monitor the prisoners at all times, without being observed herself. However, Bentham recognizes that it is not even necessary actually to engage in constant surveillance. While it may be desirable for an almost non-stop inspection,

"This being impossible, the next thing to be wished for is, that, at every instant, seeing reason to believe as much, and not being able to satisfy himself to the contrary, he should conceive himself to be so." (Bentham, 1962:40)

The actual and imagined inspections act to reinforce each other in the minds of the prisoner, or as Bentham describes the "apparent omnipresence of the inspector ... combined with the extreme facility of his real presence" (Bentham 1962:45).

The importance to Bentham of the totality of the observation is central to the concept of the Panopticon. Any unobserved space will encourage unregulated behavior:

"Cells, communications, outlets, approaches, there ought not anywhere to be a single foot square, on which man or boy shall be able to plant himself - no not for a moment - under any assurance of not being observed. Leave but a single spot thus unguarded, that spot will be sure to be a lurking-place for the most reprobate of the prisoners, and the scene of all sorts of forbidden practices." (Bentham 1962:86)

With regard to its applicability in the workplace Bentham underscores its utility in instances where workers are paid on a time-basis:

"Whatever be the manufacture, the utility of the principle is obvious and incontestible, in all cases where the workmen are paid according to their time. Where they are paid according to their piece, there the interest which the workman has in the value of his work supersedes the use of coercion, and of every expedient calculated to give force to it.(Bentham 1962:60)

Foucault's Development and Adaptation of the Panopticon

Foucault takes Bentham's concept of the Panopticon in order to describe and analyze its effect as an instrument of wielding power within institutions and society as a whole. Using the term "hierarchical observation" he depicts

"a mechanism that coerces by means of observation; an apparatus in which the techniques that make it possible to see induce effects of power, and in which, conversely, the means of coercion make those on whom they are applied clearly visible." (Foucault 1979:170-171)

The purpose of the architecture is to allow an internal control that transforms the individual while also modifying and regulating behavior (Foucault 1979:172).

A "normalizing judgement" is an integral part of the mechanisms of observation and control. In the disciplinary situation, punishment is used alongside gratification, so that performance and behavior are on the basis of two opposed values of "good" and "evil." Importantly, "good" and "evil" can be quantified, with points given to one or the other to determine the outcomes. The effects of the "normalizing judgement" of the observer are that:

"The distribution according to ranks or grade has a double role: it marks the gaps, hierarchizes qualities, skills and aptitudes; but it also punishes and rewards." (Foucault 1979:181)

The "art of punishing" therefore has several functions: it allows for individual actions to be compared to a set of standards and rules, thereby marking out the differences between individuals; it measures quantitatively, and therefore creates a hierarchy; it introduces conformity; and sets limits in order to define differences in relation to all other differences (Foucault 1979:182). The individual internalizes the norms and values of the organization or institution and becomes a party to her own subjugation.

Disciplinary power is then exercised through the "examination." The observer is invisible while the subject has a compulsory visibility, It is this constant visibility, or "examination," that "maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection." (Foucault 1979:187) The "examination" introduces the documentation of the individual, in other words her identification, classification, and evaluation. What occurs is,

"the constitution of a comparative system that made possible the measurement of overall phenomena, the description of groups, the characterization of collective facts, the calculation of the gaps between individuals, their distribution in a given 'population'." (Foucault 1979:190)

The notion of Panoptic power reverses the whole idea of the dungeon - light and visibility become the trap, as opposed to the darkness and invisibility of the traditional prison cell. In terms of power, the result is that

"Discipline makes possible the operation of a relational power that sustains itself by its own mechanism and which, for the spectacle of public events, substitutes the uninterrupted play of calculated gazes." (Foucault 1979:177)

While Bentham saw the need for a large measure of actual surveillance, Foucault suggests that the Panopticon seduces and draws the individual into the administering of her own control. The Panopticon becomes

"a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers." (Foucault 1979:201)


The Development of Surveillance

Foucault poses the question of how workers resisted the introduction of surveillance and control in the early phases of industrialization. Surveillance was first introduced into the more vulnerable levels of the mechanized sectors - children and women. However, its extension into the professional or skilled sectors, such as engineers, wasn't as successful, as there was resistance to the level of control implied by surveillance. The result was power being delegated through the foreperson.

Soon the level of mechanization increased again and reached down into the skilled worker, thereby destroying working class resistance. Control eludes management until they can automate or semi-automate, which in effect subverts the power of the skilled worker. (Foucault 1980). The development of scientific management techniques leaves the actual work in the hands of the worker while centralizing decisions about work performance into management:

"This brain/hands dichotomy makes management the depository of all knowledge about the work process, capable of determining in minute detail the tasks to be carried out. Workers, divested of this knowledge and control over determining work, were responsible only for carrying out the designed tasks." (OTA 1987:17)

In the modern workplace as tasks become automated with the use of information technology, the job content is routinized and simplified, in essence a "deskilling" of the work occurs. As Amick and Smith point out:

"In the design process, work simplification has a tendency to reduce the content of jobs by reducing cognitive content, task complexity and responsibility. This is accomplished by lowering the skill level required to complete the work, leading to the phrase 'de-skilling of work'." (Amick and Smith 1992:11)

The use of monitoring becomes more prevalent as tasks are broken into discrete quantifiable units that can be performed by relatively unskilled labor. The emphasis on productivity and "Average Work Time" in areas such as telephone services represents a 'deskilling' of the job, reduced autonomy and work control.

In defense of this existing order, some argue that the American worker is desirous of management control,

"Employees tolerate, and even desire, some degree of management oversight. However, the level of management oversight employees desire differs greatly. For example, a CEO of a major corporation may desire only general guidelines from the board of directors, while a line worker may desire step by step instructions on how to complete every task." (DeTienne and Abbot 1993:12)

The same authors continue,

"Employees who see themselves as high on the social status scale tolerate less monitoring than those who see themselves as lower. Thus, a group of computer programmers may tolerate less monitoring, since it demeans them, while a group of data-entry clerks may tolerate a higher level of monitoring." (ibid)

Of course, it is probably the case that computer programmers, engineers and professionals tolerate less monitoring as it represents an unacceptable invasion of their personal work control. However, this is a result of their relative power in the workplace as opposed to any innate proclivity on the part of more unskilled workers to accepting dominance. As mentioned previously, the relatively unskilled worker has fewer options in the labor market if she is dissatisfied with the existence of monitoring in the workplace. The level of unionization is at a historic low point, offering the employee even less protection against employer abuse of electronic monitoring. The supposed "free-market" in labor is in reality an unbalanced relationship between employer and employee.

The history of unionization, and business attempts - with a cooperative State - to repress independent labor movements wherever possible, is ignored by those who regard the American worker as concerned with individualism and due process. According to Westin (1992) the difference between Europeans and Americans over monitoring revolves around individualism;

"the difference reflects the more individualistic orientation of American white collar workers (even those that are represented by unions); their concern over supervisor favoritism and subjectivity under purely observational evaluations; and their penchant for individual 'due-process' protections." (Westin 1992:39)

Again this regards the individual as a free and independent player in relation to the employer. However, the "information age" seems to be further eroding the relative power of the individual. The chasm of power between individuals and bureaucratic organizations is intensifying with the increasing power of the corporate bureaucracy in relation to the individual, and in many respect to the State itself (Gandy 1989). The marginal cost of adding additional bits of data to a centralized database declines, which allows large organizations to gather more information. They may not have an immediate need for the data but cheap storage means this information can easily be kept. Concern over 'due-process' is therefore relegated to almost irrelevance.

Power Relations Within the Enterprise

In the eighteenth century Foucault regards the problem of economic changes as making it

"necessary to ensure the circulation of effects of power through progressively finer channels, gaining access to individuals themselves, to their bodies, their gestures and all their daily actions." (Foucault 1980:151-152)

In the late twentieth century the ever more sophisticated methods of electronic monitoring of workers can be viewed in the same fashion. The use of the Panoptic power of surveillance allows the observer access to the most intimate aspect of the individual.

Surveillance, unlike other forms of power, requires little expense and the problem of balancing violence - which may produce a reaction - with intervening in a discontinuous manner - which may produce disobedience - disappears. Surveillance is thus;

"An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorization to the point that he is own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over, and against, himself." (Foucault 1980:155)

Constant visibility acts to ensure the conformity of the observed. The director of a company that produces and sells software that instantaneously puts productivity statistics on a computer screen visible to all employees, describes the formation of the software in the following way:

"I got the idea watching the Miami Dolphins football team ... those athletes play their hearts out. Why? Certainly the money helps, but it's not the real reason. They play at 100 percent because everything they do is seen by hundreds of thousands of people--instantly." (Piller 1993:5)

The visibility of the worker or performer certainly has the power to induce conforming behavior. Psychologically there is the risk of shame and humiliation in the ever visible environment. Zuboff (1988) describes the results as "anticipatory conformity,"

"the behavioral expectations of the observer can be so keenly anticipated by the observed that the foreknowledge of visibility is enough to induce conformity to those normative standards." (Zuboff 1988:345)

As the worker is surveilled and even has access to the information gathered, the tendency to internalize the normative values of the evaluation process increases.

There are two elements to the use of this information for the evaluation of employee performance. First it allows the supervisor to engage in making quantitative decisions about performance, substituting personal supervision and qualitative decision-making (Zuboff 1988:327). As Lyon suggests,

"the advent of information technologies serves to reinforce the neo-Benthamite obsession with facts - now data - and technical decisions ...technology facilitates the continued quest for certainty." (Lyon 1991:613)

Secondly, it allows, as Foucault has noted, for the comparison between workers and against a clearly articulated set of standards and rules. The employees in monitored occupations are encouraged to compete against each other, with results posted publicly to reinforce the internalization of the rules and goals. A productivity poster from Pacific Western Airlines extolled workers to:

"Compare yourself with your friends. Compare yourself with ones who aren't your friends. Are you pulling your weight at the office? When the monthly statistics are published, ensure you're not dragging down your team and your office." (OTA 1987:57)

The quest for quantifiable standards seems unstoppable. It is now possible to monitor the productivity of software programmers through the use of a measuring standard called the "function point." This is a weighted total of inputs, outputs, inquiries, files and interfaces (Iadipaolo 1992). More generally, there are work measurement methods developed by industrial engineers - a technique called Methods-Time Measurement (MTM). A 100% performance standard is defined as a "fair day's work pace." This is the work pace that an average well-trained employee can work without undue fatigue. A 70% benchmark is then seen as a tolerable level of performance, with 120% regarded as "incentive pace" (Schleifer and Shell 1992:50).

In her case study of companies using new information technology Zuboff gives the example of a computer-monitoring system that assigns daily tasks to a craftsworker. As each is completed, this is entered into the computer with the time taken and how it alters the rest of the day. The time - or "price" - of the task can only be altered by the foreperson. The whole system allows for the evaluation of performance which in turn becomes part of the rubric for determining "prices," assigning workloads and assessing efficiency of the organization (Zuboff 1988:318). Consequently workers are evaluated and can compete on the basis of these "standards." Clearly, the effect of the monitoring produces a means by which to compare, contrast and place workers into an easily calculated hierarchy.


Related to the idea of the comparison of quantifiable results is that of increased productivity. Foucault and Bentham maintain that the visibility within the Panopticon results in order;

"if they are workers, there are no disorders, no theft, no coalitions, none of those distractions that slow down the rate of work, make it less perfect or cause accidents." (Foucault 1979:201)

Opponents of monitoring suggest that productivity is adversely affected because of the stress caused and the inability to consider the diversity of work conditions and situations. However, proponents of monitoring are more convinced of its utility in bolstering productivity and preventing theft:

"There's no denying it. Call accounting will save you money by sparing internal abuse and putting the fear of God in your employees. If people know they're being monitored and they can be held accountable for their transgressions, they're less likely to make personal calls on the company's nickel and more likely to spend their time making the company money." (Tucker 1992:94)

A representative from Avis regards monitoring as having the potential to generate substantial increases in revenue:

"We get 24 million calls a year and it takes close to six calls to produce one rental. If I could get my call-to-rental down to 5.9 that's a tiny move, but that's worth close to $2 million a year ... It's all in presenting the product to the customer in the proper way. The payoff's enormous for us.

And there's no incremental costs to get it. It's there on the phones to be had if we can do it." (Laabs 1992:103)

Taken in conjunction with the measuring and comparative aspects of data collection, monitoring is used to ensure order, discipline and greater productivity.

Work Teams and Implementation

The use of "work teams" as a means supposedly to counteract the potential negative effect of worker monitoring (Laabs 1992), is another instance of normalization through the inculcation of company values.

Foucault argues that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there were the formal structures of bourgeois democracy, but Panopticism acted to make the effective mechanisms of power function in opposition to this formal framework (Foucault 1979:222). A similar argument can be used to counter the use of work teams with its rhetoric of worker participation and cooperation. The work team approach acts as a veil under which the formal structures of power remain intact.

Rather than hand over the reigns of power to the work teams, management wants to take advantage of the workers' superior knowledge of the individual tasks while simultaneously maintaining actual control of the process and ensuring that its goals and values are implemented. This "team-centered, problem-solving" approach is a reorientation to realities not an abdication of control.

The management literature (Griffith 1993; Westin 1992; Laabs 1993; DeTienne and Abbot 1993) constantly recommends that the introduction of electronic monitoring be done with worker participation and input so that there is an effect of shared ownership and belief in the system at large. In Zuboff's optimistic view:

"Shared universal transparency can create a sense of mutual participation in and responsibility for operational and behavioral events. Joint access to the behavioral text can mean opportunities for joint learning." (Zuboff 1988:361)

This however raises the question of who determines the "behavioral text." A more critical analysis of employee motives argues:

"The development and continued refinement of electronic surveillance systems using computer-based technology can provide the means by which management can achieve the benefits that derive from the delegation of responsibility to teams whilst retaining the superstructure of surveillance and the information it collects, retains, and disseminates." (Sewell and Wilkinson 1992:283)

In other words work teams and the worker participation aspects of electronic monitoring can be essential in coopting the employee into the normative values of the controllers of the monitoring system. The efficiency of electronic monitoring is that the workers themselves become intimately involved in the process that Foucault regards as ensuring their own subjugation.


Opponents to electronic monitoring in the workplace have been primarily concerned with the abuses of employers, and the consequent effects on workers privacy, performance and health. In many ways it is business interests that understand the issues that are stake - their ability to control the work process.

The law as it currently stands, provides little protection to the monitored worker. Proposed legislation, while addressing some important concerns of workers, has not addressed the vital question of power relations in the workplace. The parameters of discussion have been determined by business and continue to revolve primarily around the most efficient means of running the enterprise. Stress, inter-worker competition and performance evaluations are seen as important issues by business because of their ultimately detrimental effect on productivity and the smooth operation of the business. Management is concerned primarily with devising more efficient and less draconian means of implementing and administering monitoring systems.

The analysis of electronic monitoring that is derived from Foucault and Bentham's concept of the Panopticon places power in its rightful place at the center of the debate. The use of surveillance is a fundamental means by which the employer inexpensively and effectively exercises power. The beauty of the electronic Panopticon is the cooption of the worker into the very system that is used to administer control and discipline. Management trends such as "work teams" and "Total Quality Management" are primarily means to more effectively run a capitalist enterprise. Feedback of information gathered from monitoring allows workers to compare themselves to others, to be notified of their place in the hierarchy, to judge their performance against the objective rules and standards determined by the business. This provides for a convenient means to further inculcate the values of the organization into the worker. In contrast, the placing of real power over the direction and principles of the business into the hands of the employee would be a revolutionary act, which would undermine the entire rationale of American business.

It would appear that any fundamental improvement in the conditions of the worker, requires an equally fundamental undermining of the power relations between employer and employee, in short a total reorganization of the work and employment. In addition, deeper questions still need to be asked about the technology itself, and whether it is just "as noxious as the management system." When asked about the necessity of prisoners taking over the central tower, Foucault answered,

"provided that isn't the final purpose of the operation. Do you think it would be much better to have the prisoners operating the Panoptic apparatus and sitting in the central tower, instead of the guards?" (Foucault 1980:164-165)


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