Friday, January 18, 2008

Read the Fine Print...Your Company Can Spy on You Where You Least Expect

Everyone understands a company's need for the first level of security, mainly protecting the physical safety of their buildings and employees. The second level of "security", when companies spy on their employees, their competition, and their customers, is not quite as clear.

In order to remain competitive, it's essential companies have some type of monitoring system in place, now that the Internet is just a keystroke away, tempting employees with unlimited "entertainment" and escape from what they are being paid to do. However, the question is not whether companies should be allowed to spy, rather how far should corporations be allowed to go when engaging in the second level of spying?

Wal-Mart, the shining example of cutting-edge thinking and technology in the corporate world, is also leading the way with its massive internal investigative capability, and has very possibly strayed over the legal line, and most definitely over the ethical line as many places of business have. When corporations own computers more powerful than any one computer found at the Pentagon, that corporation is no different from an employee, one keystroke away from the Internet...the temptation to stray is overwhelming.

Apparently, after technician, Bruce Gabbard, was fired for having secretly taped conversations between Wal-Mart employees and a Times reporter, that same technician spilled the beans on a larger, sophisticated surveillance operation at Wal-Mart, proving once again, how disposable most of us are in corporate America.

Gabbard said the retailer employs a variety of means, including software that can monitor every key stroke on the retailer's network, to keep tabs not only on employees but also on its board of directors, stockholders, critics of the company, and in at least one instance, on a consultant, McKinsey & Co.
Wal-Mart is not the only company involved in corporate espionage. Hewlett-Packard started the ball rolling when it aggressively pursued the "leakers" amongst them by engaging in "pretexting" -- falsely representing an identity to a telephone company in order to obtain telephone records of that person.

A little over one year later, pretexting, now outlawed by Congress due to the public's reaction to the Hewlett-Packard spy scandal; Douglas Frantz reveals how "C.I.A. agents are pushing corporate espionage to ominous new extremes".

Most of the ex-agents employed by corporations engage in perfectly legal activities, from surveillance to lie detection. However, a few of these techniques are a little shady, at best. "Data haunts," which employ extreme methods to capture personal data from an individual is one example. Normally, an outside device is unknowingly place on the person's computer such as a trojan horse to record keystrokes, email traffic or the ex-agents will use an electronic device to track a person's cell phone calls. Sometimes, these corporations will even watch the tail markings of private jets to find out where corporate executives are going.

The "hard shoulder" is another example of corporate espionage taken to the extreme. This is where the company digs up derogatory information about someone and takes it directly to that person threatening exposure if that person does not comply...in other words, black mail or extortion.

One man, employed by a well-known insurance company questioned the company's accounting practices. The company thoroughly investigated his personal life, fired him and threatened if he ever spoke publicly, that they would expose him with whatever information they found on him. The scary part about that situation is that corporations have the power to manufacture information, if let's say, they couldn't find anything on someone they wanted to silence. What chance does that person have against a huge billion-dollar corporation?

Corporations will go as far as buying out the contracts of government agents, doubling their salaries in hopes of getting the targeted government employee to work for them. One such agent whose contract was bought out and whose salary was doubled said, the pharmaceutical company he works for now, doubles the amount of monitoring and background checks Homeland Security and the FBI conduct.

In addition, he said the company he works for install hidden microphones wherever employees gather to monitor conversation. Is it legal? Yes, because all of this is disclosed to the employee in the fine print of their contract. Read the fine print or risk signing away your right to privacy. It's possible the company you work for might bug your brief case, pocketbook, or even you, the employee, and you won't have a leg to stand on, if you happen to discover the people you work with know your favorite sexual positions or how you like your eggs, because you were given the chance to read it in the fine print.

Another scary possibility, WAN, LAN and now HAN (Human Area Networking) technology that uses the surface of the human body as a safe, high speed network transmission path.

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