GeoSlavery: Big Brother

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[Political Pulse]


“Big Brother” has its eye on New York City.

The Bloomberg Administration has implemented a program that requires hundreds of New York City Employees to place their hand in a machine called a biometric hand scanner, to record their start and end of work time.

The biometric units take a reading of the unique shape of each employee’s hand -and matches it against a databank template- when they clock in or out each day. The palm scanners are a part of the City’s new electronic timekeeping system called “City Time.”

So far, the Bloomberg Administration, has devoted more than $240 million toward this system, which is currently implemented in over 14 City Agencies, with plans to eventually implement it in almost every Agency. Many union leaders and members, civil servants, civil liberty groups and labor activists attended a recent City Council hearing to express their adamant opposition to the system.

Union leaders expressed that the new system may violate city labor agreements because it was started without union consent or input. Since the city has refused negotiations or discussions regarding implementation of the plan, they have initiated legal petitions which are currently being heard in court.

Union leaders and city workers, testified that they support the full automation of timekeeping including electronic submission of timesheets, and that their complaint is limited to the use of biometric scanners. They argued that accurate timekeeping could be achieved without the expensive biometric hand scanners.

They further pointed out that the hand scanners have nothing to do with site security. The devices are positioned inside agency facilities and are used by employees only after they already have swiped key cards or punched in an ID code for secure entry. Workers have testified that they have felt embarrassed, degraded and demoralized having to insert a body part into a piece of equipment each time they enter or leave as if they cannot be trusted to honestly record their time.

There are  also questions about the scanners being a health hazard, as scores of people are forced to share the same scanners. Employees are even required to remove any band aids, thus exposing any open wounds, putting both themselves and others at risk.

I believe that we should support and respect New York City’s Workforce, as well as support workplace technological advancements that offer employers, City Agencies and supervisors more efficient workplace benefits. However, biometric scanners go too far. 

This type of surveillance constitutes an invasive and unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of our municipal workforce. It is also an attack on working class people because it only applies to those at the lower end of the pay scale—managers and supervisors are exempt.

It has been widely touted that biometrics and other forms of surveillance being used in today’s work place including Global Positioning Systems, “smart” cards, Interactive Voice Recognition systems, “data docking stations” and Data collection devices, and strategically placed cameras are part of an ever increasing “Big Brother” network that threatens to monitor and record the movements of virtually everyone in some way– all in the name of increasing security and efficiency.

But, security for whom? Security for the masses of the people, or security for a small elite who will feel much more “secure” if they can monitor the rest of us? This is further part of a new global movement toward what privacy rights organizations, civil liberty groups and the labor movement refer to as GeoSlavery - The abuse by government agencies and private businesses of technology originally developed for security purposes to be used as a remote control and enables employers to learn non-work related information including personal habits, tastes, and interests of employees.

One Union Leader testified “These systems are being used reduce us to mere cogs in the machine. You have 60 minutes for lunch and not a minute more! You better run straight to your computer, not talk to anybody…log in, because that is now your timecard of record.
It is as if we are working in some textile mill in the 1820’s and when the whistle blows we had better all be sitting in front of our looms ready to go…As civil servants, we produce incredibly creative, thoughtful and substantive projects but this only happens when we are treated with respect and dignity, and these systems treat us with neither!”


Black Star News columnist Nayo Joy Simmons can be reached at

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