Fine line between spying and security

 With no apparent trace of irony, Public Services Association president Watson Duke has objected to security cameras in the Ministry of Trade on the basis that the footage might reveal public servants slacking off.

“They want to monitor the workers, see who is liming,” the recently re-elected PSA president told the media. “They are using the cameras as a form of appraisal to set up workers. Once workers accept the cameras, they have to accept the results (of the footage).”

The ministry installed the cameras last week and, after 50 workers walked off the job in protest last Monday, explained in a news release that the cameras had been installed because of  “a series of security incidents, leading to material losses to both staff and the ministry (including expensive office equipment) and threats to staff”. 

The release also stated the installation had been planned several months ago—so apparently, even with such an urgent matter, the Government took its typical turtle time to put security measures in place. 

It seems, though, that the 50 workers do not consider their personal safety or the theft of State equipment to be as important as the possibility that they will be caught liming on the job. 

In an effort to justify his argument, however, Mr Duke also asserted that the security cameras constituted “a gross violation of their constitutional right to privacy. The Data Protection Act says they can’t get personal data from people without consent”. 

Well, those are actually two separate issues. While Section 4 (c) of the Constitution does guarantee “the right of the individual to respect for his private and family life”, this obviously refers to a citizen’s personal life. 

So, if security cameras in a Government ministry can intrude on someone’s personal life, then the question arises as to why their private matters are intruding on their public work. 

As for the Data Protection Act, this law is aimed specifically at ensuring that organisations do not disclose employees’ personal information save under specific conditions—which don’t include whatever a camera might pick up on their desks.

Now the PSA, watching over the interests of its members, should hardly be expected to oppose measures intended to make the work environment safer. After all, reported complaints don’t suggest the cameras are placed in settings as private as staff restrooms or even lunchrooms. 

The fact is, Government equipment has vanished without trace from other State workplaces. The Trade Ministry’s deployment of cameras appears a reasonable response. 

But Mr Duke’s re-election after a controversial first term now becomes more understandable, if public servants support him because of his fierce defence of their right not to be caught not working.

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