Friday, August 31, 2007

New York Secretly Tracks Employees: Press Yawns

A judge in New York has recommended that a city employee be fired for leaving work early. Fair enough. However, there are a few questions I would like to raise in regards to this decicion.

Firstly, the employee in question, one Mark Halpin, was issued a city phone without being todld that it contained a GPS system that would be used to track his movements. this sounds suspiciously like entrapment to me. Secondly, it turns out that halpin often showed up for for work as many as two hours earlier than hsi shift began. However, the judge did not take that into account. According to the New York Post,
Halpin questioned the reliability of the data and argued that his privacy was invaded, since officials tracked him when he wasn't at work.
In fact, the data found Halpin on numerous occasions turned up early for his job, sometimes at 6 a.m. His shift started at 8 a.m.
Despite the extra hours Halpin put in without pay, Richard ruled that it didn't mitigate his early departures and recommended he be fired.

This seems incredible to me on a couple of counts.The fact that a judge- a member of a profession who is not known either for their promptness or their ability to be on time (just see how many cases drag on forever)- would not take into account that Halpin actually was apparently willing to come in early without pay on a number of occasions seems to send a very bad message. If coming in ealry and working on one's own dime doesn't allow one to occasionally leave early, then something iss badly wrong with the system. And the fact that it apparently doens't count at all with a judge doesn't exactly make a person want to put in any unpaid extra work, since it will nto count positively in the event of a problem.

My second and larger problem with this story is the privacy issue. According to the story, the judge had no problem with the city using a system to track employeees without warning them of same.
She dismissed concerns about whether the city had to warn Halpin in advance of the cellphone's tracking abilities.
"The department [of Education] is not expected to notify its employees of all the methods it may possibly use to uncover their misconduct," Richard decided.
"The undisputed intent of issuing the cellphone with GPS was for the department to be able to determine the whereabouts of its supervisors in the field."

If I were Halpin, I would be talking to my lawyer. Not only has the judge apparently decided that Halpin's early arrivals are not important, she also does not appear to have a problem with a tracking system being used unbeknownst to its subjects. And she admitted in court that the only reason the phones were fitted with GPS was to track employee movements. yet the employees weere never told of this. Isn't this the heart of the screams that erupted wwhen the NSA's foreign (NOT domestic) eavesdropping program became known? Where is the outrage from the New York Times? CNN? Any media organ? The Post simply reported this as a straight story, with none of the angt that accompanied their coverage of the NSA program, yet this seems much more sinister than the NSA profgram. Here we really do have an organization (in this case the City of New York) keeping track of itss employees and wathcing their movements without their knowing or their consent.

Ultimately, this is why Congress needs to revisit the entire issue of surveillance and determine what is and what is not illegal. Judges and the court ssystem are not qualified to decide cases like this. They simply do not understand modern technology. This judge, if she had any clue, should have thrown out the case on the basis of invasion of privacy. Remember, it was the judiciary that discover a right to abortion in an enumbra of a privacy right. Surely thiss invasion of privacy is more egregious? Of course, thiss case has no possibility of embarrassing President Bush. perhapss that iss why the major media has chosen to cover it the way they have. I guarantee if Halpin were a Muslim- especially an indicted terrorist, the media would be all over this invasion of privacy. If the U.S. government were involved in any way, the ACLU, the media and anyone else who could woul be screaming to high heaven. But of course, that would call for both consistency and for objectivity- not something the major media has proven themselves to be very good at.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.

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