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Big Box, Big Brother? Wal-Mart Accused Of Snooping

Thursday, 5 Apr 2007 | 9:07 AM ET
WalMart
WalMart

The Wall Street Journal reported that a Wal-Mart Stores employee was fired for recording phone calls with a New York Times reporter last month. And now, the man claims he was part of a more elaborate corporate espionage scheme. Labor and privacy experts joined “Street Signs” to analyze the case.

David Garland, co-chair of the employment and labor group at Sills Cummis, explained to CNBC's Erin Burnett that at times, employees will go too far when snooping for the company: “They’re in a position to look through e-mails, they’re in a position to look through surveillance video and they may have a police background or any other background that may take them further than the company wants.”

Corporate Spying
Wal-mart and other corporations spend significant money spying on their own employees, with Jim Goldman, CNBC Silicon Valley bureau chief; Lillie Coney, Electronic Privacy Information Center; David Garland, Sills Cummis co-chair, employment and labor practice group and CNBC's Erin Burnett

Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said there is some expectation that employers will monitor employees for illegal activities. She explained that it’s hard to determine legitimacy without an independent investigation. She says the key question is, “Did they have policies and procedures in place to regulate what was being done in the name of the company, and surveilling and spying on employees?”

So should the government step in? There, the experts split: Coney said, “We definitely need policy, we need regulation, we need laws in place not only to protect employers but employees.”

But Garland declared that the government should stay out: “Responsible companies communicate their policies to their employees so the employees know what to expect.”

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  • Brian Sullivan is co-anchor of CNBC's "Street Signs."

  • Co-anchor of CNBC's "Street Signs," Amanda Drury is based at the network's global headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.