Cell phone tracking is a rapidly growing industry that is becoming popular among business owners. It allows them to keep a check on their workers and ensure maximum productivity. Some employers, however, are not sure about the legality of spyware and are concerned it might expose their company to a lawsuit.
What is essentially meant by cell phone tracking is monitoring of all the activity taking place on a mobile phone using a tracking software, with or without the permission of the phone’s user. There are many spy apps available for all leading mobile operating systems that are used for this purpose, and the more advanced ones come with monthly or yearly charges. These apps record all the incoming and outgoing data in the phone, including calls, SMS, MMS, e-mails, communication via instant messengers, and GPS locations. All this information is uploaded to an online server from where it can be accessed by the customer after logging in.
With the help of such tracking software like mSpy, employers can find out the arrival and departure times of their workers in the office, for how long they use their cell phones during work hours, who they are communicating with and where they hang out during recess. This is to ensure that they come and leave on time, their work is not being affected by idle texting or chatting on their phones, and they are not in connection with suspicious individuals who could be agents from rival companies. Also, employees might be on a vacation during sick leaves, and by tracking their GPS location their boss can question them about it. In transportation industries, GPS tracking can help locate which truck driver is closest to the site so he can be called over immediately. This technology therefore serves a greater purpose besides breaching a citizen’s privacy. Unfortunately there are many cases in which employers have deliberately accessed personal data of their staff members that is not related to work, with the matter having been taken to the court.
The legality of spyware is not straightforward and the use of spy apps continues as more and more company managers are finding them useful. However, it could be deemed an invasion of privacy if the boss is tracking his/her workers without their consent or knowledge, or if there is evidence that he/she has intruded into their personal lives for no valid reason. Sometimes the employees are using laptops or cell phones provided to them by the company, in which case the employers have an excuse that they are tracking the equipment and not the person.
One of the first lawsuits over the use of GPS tracking by an employer was a Missouri case, Elgin v. St. Louis Coca-Cola Bottling Co., which took place in 2005. The bottling company installed GPS devices in their vehicles in order to investigate a theft. Since the employees were allowed to drive them off-duty as well, one of the drivers who had been cleared of suspicion sued the employer for violating his right to privacy. The court ruled that since the vehicles were owned by the company and the GPS tracking did not reveal anything other than what was already public, i.e. the location of the vehicle, the act did not constitute any significant invasion of the employee’s privacy.
In Connecticut there is an Electronic Monitoring Act under which all employers are required to inform their workers of any electronic monitoring being carried out in the workplace. Electronic monitoring is defined by the Act as collection of information regarding the activities or communications of the employee within the confines of the work area. This is to allow them comfort in private places such as locker rooms and restrooms. In this light, GPS tracking of public vehicles even without prior notification does not violate the Electronic Monitoring Act, owing to the surveillance being carried out in the open and not in a private area.
Although there is still ongoing debate over the use of tracking software and devices, an employer should make sure that whenever any such surveillance is being carried out it should be in the interest of his/her business and not for any personal reason.