Firm accused of spying on worker

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am

A former sales manager with a dairy company in Zhengzhou, Henan province, has filed a lawsuit against his employer for infringing his privacy after the company tried to spy on him using a sophisticated GPS-capable mobile phone.

Li Fushi , who used to be a sales manager with Zhengzhou Guangming Mengshan Dairy, a subsidiary of mainland-listed Bright Dairy & Food, said the company tried on several occasions to locate him on weekends in January, despite promising not to activate the surveillance system while he was off duty.

Mr Li, who was fired late in February after trying to confront management over the intrusions, said he felt his rights had been violated by the surveillance. He is demanding an apology and about 1,000 yuan in compensation from the company.

The case has underscored the increasingly strained relations between employers and employees of mainland firms, and the urgent need for a review of privacy legislation on the mainland.

'You feel really distressed, both physically and mentally, when you realise that somebody has been watching you,' Mr Li said.

The surveillance system combines GPS with local mobile phone networks to allow members to pinpoint the whereabouts of other members to within a radius of 100 metres.

Zhengzhou-based lawyer Hu Dakuan , who is representing Mr Li, said the legality of the surveillance technology was open to debate, 'but my client has every right to keep his own time and space to himself'.

'They did infringe the privacy of my client by using such facilities over the weekends,' Mr Hu added.

A spokeswoman for the Bright Dairy subsidiary said the company had faith in the judicial system, but refused to comment further.

The company earlier told the media it had put the system in place out of concern for its employees' safety.

However, Mr Li noted that the company had shown little respect and trust by introducing such a spying device, and the sales team had been dismayed by the drastic measures it had taken.

He said the company threatened dismissal to force more than 20 employees to lodge 500-yuan deposits with the firm for the GPS-compatible cell phones earlier in the year. That allowed management to check on their movements from a company computer. Phone users got an alert message each time a manager tried to pinpoint them.

Beijing-based labour and social security law researcher Su Wenwei said emerging technologies had opened new possibilities for efficient management, but they should be used in accordance with the rule of law. However, she also pointed out that mainland law had yet to make clear-cut references to the use of such surveillance technology.

'And the company should initiate an agreement with employees in a bid to avoid disputes,' Ms Su added.