Artificial Intelligence: AI Surveillance On ‘Legal Eagles’ Working From Home

November 22, 2021 | Artificial Intelligence, News
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Employers are now using facial recognition software to keep tabs on contract lawyers.

The pandemic forced lawyers used to working in secure offices to instead function from remote locations such as their homes. Their employer firms had to contend with a new problem: How to ensure the security and confidentiality of clients’ sensitive data and documents? Their solution: AI-enabled surveillance of contract attornies using facial recognition software. The lawyers now had a choice: Accept the intrusive systems inside their homes or risk losing the job. (Washington Post)

The Washington Post surveyed 27 such contract attorneys in the US who had agreed to work under these new norms.

How it works

The legal eagle is required to scan their face every morning to ensure reverification of identity for access to documents. The software, which works through the employee’s webcam, records their environment and their facial movements, and can even sound an alert if it catches out the employee taking unauthorized copies of confidential documents, or if an unrecognized person enters the room. Even a longer-than-usual break from paying attention to the screen is flagged.

RemoteDesk, an “on-demand” monitoring software offered by Verificient Technologies, can log browsing history, record screens, and listen for music or phone calls. It scans the lawyer’s face and room for unauthorized activity such as eating or drinking, and “suspicious” behavior.

In a guide, Verificient wrote that the software identifies “various levels of deceit and misconduct based on the guidelines defined by the corporation.”

RemoteDesk generates data on the worker’s entire online activity for the day, duly classified as productive or unproductive, alongwith a productivity score.

The software also offers a webcam feed that included snapshots of violations, such as when a worker visited a social media website, made calls or blocked the camera’s view.

Glitches that employees face

The software systems used for surveillance are not without their glitches. Contract lawyers complain that the systems make mistakes in recognition, and people of darker complexions seem to face this problem more than those with lighter skin hues.

Loetitia McMillion, a contract attorney in Brooklyn who is Black, said of the surveil system: “It crashes all the time and says it doesn’t recognize me, and I want to just tell it: Actually, no, it’s the same Black face I’ve had for a few decades now.”

These systems also make errors due to factors such as the room’s lighting or the quality of the employee’s webcam. They are known to have mistaken a coffee mug for a clandestine camera and to book a lawyer for listening to a podcast.

In most cases the employee must re-log into to the system, causing interruptions in their workflow and affecting their productivity.

Privacy concerns

A more sensitive issue is that many employees perceive the surveillance as an intrusion into their privacy, and the implied implication that they are not to be trusted – despite their experience and tenure of service with the employer.

Amy Aykut, a contract attorney in the D.C. area, said to the Post that the monitoring was a symptom of “these pervasive employer attitudes that take advantage of these technologies to continue these really vicious cycles … that treat employees as commodities.”

“The irony in this situation is that it’s attorneys, who traditionally advocate for employee rights or justice when they’re made aware of intrusions like these.”

Related Story: AI Cameras In Amazon Delivery Vehicles Unfairly Penalize Drivers

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