What if the public could watch and hear you work?

A recent article in Government Technology reported that a Florida mayor, concerned about someone stealing items from his office, installed $8,000 worth of surveillance cameras in his office – at taxpayer expense.

Leaving the details of this case (and the related investigation) aside, the story brings up an intriguing question. How would any of us behave differently if we knew the public was watching us on live streaming video?

On the surface, some out there might say such over-the-top surveillance (particularly if we didn’t know when we were being watched or heard) might improve an employee’s overall attention to customer service, productivity, communication, attitude, and so on.

And while it’s certainly valid to expect professional behavior and productive work habits from public servants, you’d think after a while the cameras and hidden microphones would have the opposite effect. Work and morale would inevitably suffer with this amount of scrutiny. After all, this is not “1984.”

Short of actually installing cameras and planting bugs inside city halls, state office buildings and federal offices, however, it’s still advisable to practice open communication and be transparent with those who pay our salaries. In any industry, especially government, it’s never a good idea to be secretive, and certainly not to assume that people probably won’t care enough to hear the details – or be capable of understanding.

To the contrary, providing engaging communication to the public must be a big part of working for the government. Giving people powerful tools with which to make informed decisions about various aspects of their life, neighborhood, and nation should never be something to fear.

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Mark P. DeRosia

There is a time and place for such use of cameras and hidden microphones and this should be left to law enforcement when conducting criminal investigations. In the public sector, while we are all public servants, I could see very few reasons to treat a citizen with other than dignity and respect, even in the worst of contacts. I do not believe cameras would help ensure that the bad treatment did not occur, but instead, and even more important, is that they would document the unrealistic conduct that some citizens can display when they are upset. I do not believe employees need cameras to keep them in line in an office situation as I have never had contact with any public servant that was out of line that I can recall.

Pherae Le Sann

As someone that was bullied and harassed at work by a religious preaching employee and a bully non report to manager I applaud surveillance at work. I enjoy workplaces that have close circuit video monitoring and have listening and e-mail monitoring devices as they are often the best defense in face of liars. I work in a financial environment and find it is imperative to monitor it in such a manner.

Mark P. DeRosia

Being bullied or harassed in or out of the workplace is unacceptable under any circumstances. Do you fell that these close circuit video monitoring has helped or hurt the employees? Also, I was curious what people had to think about police officer discipline. I am curious to find out what others think about officers being disciplined for violations of policy.

Yun-Mei Lin

This is a twist! Instead of the tired, old, unwarranted fear of “Big Brother” spying on us, it would be so great to have live video streams viewable by the public (customer base). How absolutely fantastic this would be!

Ok, just to share a little background. I have always been an advocate for any kind of accountability, as well as plugged in, high-tech conveniences. I cannot wait until the day when we all get issued our implants – all in one communication devices, id chip, and bank account links, scannable where ever we go – no more lost keys, forgotten wallets, etc etc. And to those who immediately scream, “Big Brother…..!” I say, 1) Who are you that you are so important that Big Brother needs to watch you; and 2) What incorrect behaviour are you planning that you are afraid of Big Brother watching you?

To this discussion, what a twist! Instead of Big Brother, we would offer live viewing to our very customers, the general public. I would love it. They would get to see just how hard we work for them behind the scenes. When they think we do nothing but attend an 8-hour coffee break, they can see that not only are we assisting them, but 200 others that same day. They can see how diligently we research their issues and provide them the right guidance, action, resolutions, etc.

They can listen in on some our wishes and daydreams: “I wish the public knew these resources were here, and here, and here. I wish the public could have X, Y and Z ready when they make their requests. I wish…”

They can listen in as we learn ourselves the new policies and procedures when rules, regulations, and laws are changed on us. They’ll know that we are not hiding things from them, that we are not holding out on them, that we are learning new ways to do things, right along with them.

Now, of course, all the above is assuming a perfect world, and streamless implementation. Of course, we would have to worry about privacy (I work in HR, we definitely don’t want to stream PII out there), and appropriateness (no restrooms, breakrooms, etc), and scope – do we just want to stream group work areas, or individual workstations/offices/cubicles?

I believe we are always on better behaviour when we think we are being observed, and I don’t really think it would be a detriment to morale. I do agree that the expense would make this only a rhetorical question, but wouldn’t it be nice? I would definitely propose that these cameras NOT be hidden.