Lunaya Pravda

26 January 2007


N.Y. scanners spark union cries of "geoslavery"

Every morning Dennis Colson, a surveyor at New York City's Department of Design and Construction, begins his work day by placing his hand on a scanner to log his time and attendance at the office.

The use of hand geometry and other biometric data, like facial and iris recognition, is not new -- the University of Georgia pioneered the use of hand geometry when it installed scanners in its student dining hall in 1974.

But the planned roll-out of hand geometry scanners in all New York City government agencies has sparked union cries of "geoslavery" and assertions that technology developed for security will be used to track, label and control workforces.

Hmmm... "geoslavery" is a new term for me. I have to admit my first reaction was one of skepticism and weariness at the comparison to slavery. Just as hurling the "Nazi" name-calling makes me question one's credibility, so do I question the credibility of crying "slavery" at the drop of a hat.

But if the concern is tracking when an employee's hours, there are ways to do accomplish it without obtaining unique personal attributes from employees - attributes which could then be sold/given/stolen to others. And that's even assuming the employer has a right to such information, which I don't think it has.

Is it possible workers are somewhat to blame for allowing themselves to be treated as a commodity? (There's an important distinction between treating your skills as a commodity and allowing yourself to be treated as one). They've put up with all number of abuses: tracked bathroom visits, electronic leashes, smaller cubicles with less privacy, etc. They are shunted here and there like a cattle drive. Where exactly did they think all these dehumanizing policies were headed? Towards a freer, more pleasant, more adult working environment? Nope - we've been sliding towards infantilizing our adults for the last three decades. (And some of them exhibit behavior that begs for such treatment, but unfortunately the consequences befall us all in the name of equality.)

Instead of striving towards a goal such as Best Buy's results-oriented workplace, where one's performance is measured not by punching a clock, but by how much one accomplished towards his goals for the year. If goals are exceeded by working 6 hours a day, most of it from home after the kids have gone to bed, then the company is happy, and the employee's quality of life increases. Hand geometry, retinal and voice scanning technologies have no place in this kind of work environment.

That's where the workplace of the future should be headed. But only if employees stop tolerating being treated like a commodity for the sake of the almighty dollar. Our skills should be for sale - our bodies and souls should not.