Hearing from the American People: How Are Automated Tools Being Used to Surveil, Monitor, and Manage Workers?
By Deirdre Mulligan, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Jenny Yang, Deputy Assistant to the President for Racial Justice and Equity, Domestic Policy Council
Today, on International Workers’ Day, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is announcing that it will be releasing a public request for information (RFI) to learn more about the automated tools used by employers to surveil, monitor, evaluate, and manage workers. The RFI seeks to advance our understanding of the design, deployment, prevalence, and impacts of these automated technologies.
Employers are increasingly investing in technologies that monitor and track workers, and making workplace decisions based on that information. According to an investigation by The New York Times last year, eight of the 10 largest private U.S. employers tracked individual workers to assess their productivity. For example:
- Nurses have been required to wear RFID badges that track their location and proximity to other hospital workers or patients;
- Rideshare and delivery drivers have their speed, location, and acceleration monitored;
- Office workers have software on their computers that records their mouse and keyboard activity;
- Call center workers are intensively tracked by electronic monitoring; and
- Warehouse packers and stockers use scanners that also track their pace of work.
While these technologies can benefit both workers and employers in some cases, they can also create serious risks to workers, which is why the Biden-Harris Administration’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights underscores the importance of technology developers building in protections from design to deployment. The constant tracking of performance can push workers to move too fast on the job, posing risks to their safety and mental health. Monitoring conversations can deter workers from exercising their rights to organize and collectively bargain with their employers. And, when paired with employer decisions about pay, discipline, and promotion, automated surveillance can lead to workers being treated differently or discriminated against.
Through this RFI, we hope to gather:
- Workers’ firsthand experiences with surveillance technologies;
- Details from employers, technology developers, and vendors on how they develop, sell, and use these technologies;
- Best practices for mitigating risks to workers;
- Relevant data and research; and
- Ideas for how the federal government should respond to any relevant risks and opportunities.
Responses to this RFI will be used to inform new policy responses, share relevant research, data, and findings with the public, and amplify best practices among employers, worker organizations, technology vendors, developers, and others in civil society.
Gathering valuable insights from the public through this RFI will help the Biden-Harris Administration create an economy that supports good-paying jobs, where workers are treated with respect and dignity, and have the opportunity to form and join unions. It will also help ensure that new workplace technologies promote fair and equitable workplaces, supporting the Administration’s commitment to advancing racial equity.
Anyone who is interested in providing their views can submit responses to the RFI by June 15, 2023. You can also email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you.