BlackBerry maker Research in Motion admitted yesterday that it recorded all employee conversations in the interest of maintaining control over intellectual property.
RIM chief information officer Robin Bienfait, during an interview with ZDNet.com.au in Sydney, said that all actions carried out on RIM's internal network were logged, which meant that people who wanted to carry out private conversations might want to bring in personal devices.
"Everything I have that's on RIM is recorded and retained as RIM. So if they want to have a chat with somebody and it's not a chat that's within RIM's domain, then they may want their own personal device," she said.
When asked exactly whether it was conversations, rather than just written information she kept tabs on, Bienfait answered: "Everything. I record everything."
It wasn't a violation of privacy according to Bienfait, who maintained the workers were aware of the surveillance: "They're doing business inside of RIM. Everything they can say or do can be patented... We're not violating anybody's privacy. They're aware that their information is transparent and in visibility."
She added that as a company reliant on its intellectual property, RIM had to be careful. "Their running anything on the RIM network or in our space is something that we have to capture because of disclosure," the executive said.
There is also a high level of caution around the pre-release beta devices which circulate around for employees to act as testers and users. Employees have to keep the devices out of sight when they go off campus so as to avoid people taking photos of the new technology. "We have to trust that they guard it," the CIO said.
Sometimes, breaches have occurred, followed by quick action on the part of the company. "We go take a look at whatever the breach or the leak is and we track it back to who or whatever caused it and we take whatever necessary action," Bienfait said.
Generally, however, employees were quick to say when their devices had been lost in a taxi, she said. "Our people are really, really good. They know their obligations as a beta tester."
In such cases, RIM would wipe the device immediately, so that it was just a piece of hardware. "I can't melt it from the sky yet. I would like that," Bienfait said.
Employees needed to enjoy the opportunity to work with the devices they had a part in manufacturing, since staff can only use BlackBerry devices for work. Bienfait said she had never had to deal with a request to put the iPhone on the network.
She said it freed her from some of the problems which plagued other companies, where IT departments had needed to deal with people wanting devices to be hooked up to the network which might compromise security. "I think it is a challenge for the industry to be able to manage some of the Gen Ys," she admitted.
Yet the eat-home-cooking law didn't hamper employee individuality, Bienfait believed, as employees ran rampant with the customization of their devices. "You can be an individual in our space. You just have to use one of the BlackBerry form factors," she said.