Big Brother is watching you

   One of the more unpleasant truths about organisms with brains is that they canít be trusted.
   Well, perhaps thatís a little harsh. Itís been four years, but Iím probably still upset that my faithful dog, Waldo, whom I trusted 100 percent, bolted from his fenced pen and headed for Alpo World, never looking back.
   Fortunately, people are much more trustworthy than mangy mutts.
   Itís just that itís not wise, as a business owner and employer, to trust everyone 100 percent. Iíve been burned too many times, not only by dogs, but by people.
   So precautions are taken. It can take many forms, and one of the most controversial is electronic surveillance.
   As a great defender of an individualís right to privacy, I consider the use of cameras to spy on the activities of employees in the workplace absolutely despicable.
   I also have 24 of them in use at the moment, thank you.
   And not only is Big Brother watching, heís recording. Every move, every slipÖrecorded for posterity and/or prosecution.
   I just spent $9,000 in the past few weeks to upgrade the surveillance system in our retail stores. (Every time I spend money on security, it reminds me of the Butch Cassidy line. When told that Mr. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad was hiring the highest-priced lawmen to hunt him down, Butch said "If heíd just pay me what heís paying to keep me from stealing from him, Iíd stop stealing from him.")
   Unfortunately, it doesnít work that way. There is a temptation, especially in a cash business such as retail, to take advantage of the situation. While the overwhelming majority of our employees are worthy of great trust, there is invariably a bad egg or two, or three, that need to be watched at all times.
    The old camera system could record only one station at a time, leaving managers in a quandary as to who should be recorded, and the bad egg employees playing the odds, realizing the chances were slim that it would be them.
   The upgrade allows for eight cameras to be recorded simultaneously for a 24-hour period, covering all sales stations as well as the office and warehouse. All employees now know their actions involving cash are being recorded at all times.
   The rest of the cameras are spread throughout the stores, aimed at the general shoplifting public.
   I could have spent even more money, buying 16-camera recorders and time-lapse recorders that can tape up to 336 hours on one eight-hour cassette. But it sounded like an invitation for quick-change artists.
   So I settled for the basic all-intrusive model. Then for a paltry sum I had the whole system wired from the main office, where the recording is done, to my nearby office, where I could do some plain old spying.
   Now that may seem distasteful, but consider the results. In the first week of operation, I took a break from my really important work and glanced over at the monitor. Needing a bit longer break from my really important work, I began flipping through the channels.
   The business, I thought with a sigh of relief, was continuing to operate smoothly. Then, just as I was thinking of another diversion from really important work, I saw it.
   On camera 12, an unsuspecting shopper looked around, and with no one in sight stuffed the merchandise he was holding down the sleeve of his jacket.
   Aha! I had him. The scumbag was mine. The camera investment was paying off. While put in primarily to deter employees from wrongdoing, I was getting a bonus by nailing a shoplifter. Not only that, I could justify the expense of having it wired to my office.
   My heart racing, I knew I had only moments to get out of my office and into the store before he exited with the goods. I jumped out of my chair and immediately screamed in sheer pain.
   In all the excitement, I had forgotten I had severely sprained my ankle a few days earlier and could barely walk.
   Withering in pain, I fumbled for the phone to intercom somebody, anybody, and tell them Big Brother was incapacitated and could not act. Naturally, no one immediately answered.
   He was getting away. I began flipping through all 24 cameras before, miraculously, picking the shoplifter up again on Camera 22.
    Isnít technology wonderful Ė I got to watch him walk out the door.


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