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Limitless Worker Surveillance

42 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2016 Last revised: 24 May 2017

Ifeoma Ajunwa

Cornell University ILR School/Law School

Kate Crawford

Microsoft Research; MIT Center for Civic Media; NYU Information Law Institute

Jason Schultz

New York University School of Law

Date Written: March 10, 2016


From the Pinkerton private detectives of the 1850s, to the closed-circuit cameras and email monitoring of the 1990s, to contemporary apps that quantify the productivity of workers, American employers have increasingly sought to track the activities of their employees. Along with economic and technological limits, the law has always been presumed as a constraint on these surveillance activities. Recently, technological advancements in several fields – data analytics, communications capture, mobile device design, DNA testing, and biometrics – have dramatically expanded capacities for worker surveillance both on and off the job. At the same time, the cost of many forms of surveillance has dropped significantly, while new technologies make the surveillance of workers even more convenient and accessible. This leaves the law as the last meaningful avenue to delineate boundaries for worker surveillance.

In this Article, we examine the effectiveness of the law as a check on worker surveillance, given recent technological innovations. In particular, we focus on two popular trends in worker tracking – productivity apps and worker wellness programs – to argue that current legal constraints are insufficient and may leave American workers at the mercy of 24/7 employer monitoring. We then propose a new comprehensive framework for worker privacy protections that should withstand current and future trends.

Suggested Citation

Ajunwa, Ifeoma and Crawford, Kate and Schultz, Jason, Limitless Worker Surveillance (March 10, 2016). California Law Review, Vol. 105, No. 3, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Ifeoma Ajunwa (Contact Author)

Cornell University ILR School/Law School ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853-3901
United States

Kate Crawford

Microsoft Research ( email )

641 Avenue of the Americas
641 Avenue of the Americas, level 7
New York, NY NY 10011
United States

MIT Center for Civic Media ( email )

75 Amherst St
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

NYU Information Law Institute ( email )

Wilf Hall
139 MacDougal Street
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

Jason Schultz

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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