Using employee physical features as a way of tracking their activities is becoming increasingly common practice.

10 years an RTÉ News report by Sharon Ní Bheoláin looked at the increasing use of electronic clock-in and biometrics in the workplace.

Biometrics involves the use of a physical feature unique to an individual as a means of identifying or verifying them. These physical features could include iris pattern, finger print and voice.

Trade unions and employees have been relatively hesitant to embrace this technology fearing that sensitive information which is stored on a central computer database could be passed on to a third party without their permission or knowledge. Technology companies refute this fear stating that policing and strong data protection legislation would prevent this from happening.

Clocking-in and clocking-out, the most basic level of recording employee activity, has been revolutionised by advances in technology. With the introduction of proximity-tags, key rings, co-tags, barcodes, magnetic strips and the use of the internet, keeping track of employees has never been easier.

Gary Corcoran, M.D. Advance Systems Ireland, says they are not only recording hours worked, but also absences. This enables the organisation to analyse trends in employee activity and behaviour.

Sharon Ní Bheolain raises the question at what point do these devices become invasive to the privacy of employees? She continues by asking if the use of such technology should be restricted to high security environments.

Des Laughlin, Technical Director at Advance Systems Ireland, demonstrates how the biometric clock-in system works, using an employee number and the corresponding finger print of that employee.

Paul Farrell, Consultant with I.B.M., talks about the importance of audit trails and how biometrics can play a part in making the trail more efficient.

The introduction of a biometric check-in has been rejected by the staff of the National Gallery of Ireland and is currently being examined by the Data Commissioners Office. Joe Meade, Data Protection Commissioner, explains the potential 'big brother senario' that could arise from the introduction of such biometrics systems.

Biometrics could potentially be used in conjunction with GPS technology which could allow employers to pin-point the location of employees at a given time.

The ethics debate that surrounds biometrics is only beginning.

An RTÉ report from 28 February 2005.