7 May 1998
If you're reading this web page while at work, you might lose your job
(Here are some ways to protect yourself)
by Eric Lee [Feedback]
It's now official: even the trade union establishment recognizes the need to protect workers from employer snooping into their email and website visits.
The International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees (FIET), representing 11,000,000 workers in 120 countries, has called for "no electronic monitoring by employers of email sent or websites visited by employees".
(For more information about FIET's new policy entitled "Online Rights for Online Workers", click here.)
It's not clear if FIET supports collective bargaining agreements or new laws to protect worker rights in the information age, but one thing is clear: if you're visiting this website on work time, using your boss' computer, you're running a risk of being fired.
And while we wait for new laws to be passed and for your employer to agree to accept your right to use email and the Web to collect information and discuss issues about work and unions, you should already be defending yourself.
Here's a brief survival guide for workers who want to visit labour websites and exchange email about trade union issues -- without the boss being able to find out:
Yes, okay, but really -- who needs this kind of security?
- Clear your cache. Eliminate all those subversive labour web pages now stored on your computer's disk. In Netscape Communicator, select Edit from the Menu bar, select Preferences, select Advanced, and then click on Cache. There, click on both buttons -- "Clear Memory Cache" and "Clear Disk Cache".
- Clear your history list. By clearing the cache, you got rid of those incriminating pages -- but you still left a list of URLs you visited. To clear that list, from the Edit menu, choose Preferences. Select the Navigator panel. Click Clear History (Expire now on the Mac OS). Click OK.
- Clear the Location Bar list. This is Netscape's best-kept secret. If you typed in the whole URL into the Location Bar -- e.g., you typed "http://www.labourstart.org/labour04.html" -- that is retained in the memory of your computer. You can see the addresses of sites you typed in by clicking on the arrow at the right end of the bar. Try to find out how to clear this -- it's not easy. And Netscape's Help doesn't help at all. But here's a site that does: http://help.together.net/browser/nclocation.html
- Get rid of those cookies. If you voted in a LabourStart poll, or voted in the online poll on Alberta's minimum wage, or bought a book at Labour's Online Bookstore, or any number of other activities, you left a trail on your computer -- what are called cookies. You can simply delete the cookies file (search for cookies.txt) from your computer, or you can more selectively delete specific cookies -- ones that you don't want the boss to know about. Click here to see Yahoo's list of programs which help clean out your cookies.
- Really delete your files. As you may know, when you delete files, you're not actually physically erasing them from your disk. They can be easily retrieved. So all those incriminating email messages you thought you got rid off are still there, and still accessible, on your disk. There are a number of programs that really do go in there and erase things permanently. Click here for reviews and links to several of them.
- Use Web-based free email services. Now that you've gotten your website trail covered, you can securely use Web-based email for correspondence you don't want the boss to know about.
When you use a web-based free email service, you don't keep your Outbox and Inbox on your own PC -- they're stored on a remote server -- and hence they can't easily be read. The most popular of these services is Hotmail but there are others too.
- And for the truly paranoid, use anonymous remailers. You can send email and make postings to newsgroups without anyone being able to trace where you're writing from. Visit Yahoo's Guide to Anonymous Remailers for more information.
People involved in organizing campaigns. Workers who need to make anonymous reports about health and safety issues. Workers suffering from sexual harrassment at the workplace, who need to tell someone. Trade union representatives who use company computers to do union business.
In a word, all of us. You too. We all need to be aware of these issues, and to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves and our unions.