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Labour calls for protection against digital snooping of home workers

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The Labour Party is demanding that the government review data privacy protections, after a survey suggested increasing numbers of employers have been inappropriately monitoring home workers during the pandemic.

According to a YouGov/Skillcast survey of 2,009 companies, 12 per cent of companies had already implemented remote tracking software to monitor workers last autumn, rising to 16 per cent at larger companies. A further one-tenth of the companies confirmed that they were considering introducing digital tracking of employees.

Chi Onwurah, the shadow digital minister, called for further data protections to protect home workers from invasive digital monitoring, such as monitoring them “without their informed consent”.

The Labour Party said that digital monitoring can include checking emails, messages and meeting attendance, the time taken to reply, and capturing webcam pictures. It said that research from the Trade Union Congress found that one in seven workers reported increased surveillance at work during the coronavirus pandemic. The group also said that AI tools are being used more to inform redundancy decisions.

Labour is demanding that the Information Commissioner’s Office update the Code of Employment Practices in light of the sudden changes to working practices brought about by lockdowns. It is also calling for any collection of personal data through workplace surveillance to be subject to a data protection impact assessment, in addition to consultation with employees and trade unions.

“Guidance and regulation to protect workers are woefully outdated in light of the accelerated move to remote working and rapid advancements in technology,” said Onwurah. “The bottom line is that workers should not be digitally monitored without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers.

“Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home, which are increasingly one and the same.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, commented: “The UK has world-leading data protection laws and strict rules around the digital monitoring of employees. The Information Commissioner has tough powers to investigate and fine companies which breach an employee’s right to privacy.”

In October 2020, a survey commissioned by Prospect found that two-thirds of UK professionals are uncomfortable with technology for monitoring their remote working activity, such as keystroke and camera monitoring. The polling also found that around half (48 per cent) of workers said that they thought that introducing monitoring software would damage their relationship with their manager. This rose to 62 per cent among younger workers.

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