Spying on people can be entertaining as can be shown by the popularity of hidden camera video on tabloid news shows but there is always a whiff of unfairness and distaste about the practice.
For the last couple of months, Washington State’s Department of Labour & Industries has been running a blog written by its Fraud Prevention and Compliance Manager, Carl Hammersburg. The blog matches the remit of the regulatory authority and covers a range of industrial enforcement actions. Occasionally it has included its own video surveillance of potential workers’ compensation fraudsters.
On 28 April 2010, the blog,called “Nailed“, included video of Frankie Day who, as a resulted on the L&I investigation, was found guilty of theft and then jailed.
An L&I media release on 10 June 2010 explains the preventative aim of the blog. Hammersburg says:
“People tend to think fraud only involves workers cheating the workers’ comp system, but it’s much more than that. Millions of dollars are lost when employers, medical providers and contractors commit fraud. The blog will show how my staff is working to fight fraud and also how we bring cheaters into compliance. I also hope Nailed will attract attention to workers’ comp fraud and encourage more people to tip us off to fraudulent activities.”
The risk with such a blog is that each of the issues gains only a short amount of time to describe the core issues. There is no provision for explanation or context. For instance, in the case of Frankie Day, readers do not know what motivated Day. There is no link to court findings or other online resources that relate to the investigation or prosecution.
The internet and blogs allow for a great deal of background to be provided in almost any article. A blog allows for active “footnotes” so that the reader can choose to follow the research or investigation trail through their own desktop. Nailed content remains thin, at the moment, in this regard although it does allow for comments to be posted on each of the articles. This at least allows the subjects of the articles to clarify some points if necessary.
Nailed has existed for less than two months and it will be interesting to watch the site’s development, its editorial policies and approaches, and its commentariat. The initiative is likely to be attractive to other OHS and labour regulators but substantial consultation would be required to make sure the aims of the website are clearly defined and that these aims can be followed and adequately resourced. There are substantial legal and reputational risks in undertaking such a website with inadequate preparation.
L&I should be applauded for using the internet in this innovative fashion. A major attraction of the blog must be that it provides L&I with greater control of how its work is presented to the public, although Jesse Jones stories feature prominently. If the site is to be a record of prosecutions and investigations, it needs more work in providing a resource that is not only revealing but educational. The site could be a discussion forum for issues related to the investigation work of L&I, for instance, or perhaps a pathway for a deeper understanding of labour issues associated with workers compensation, licensing in Washington State.
What the site should not become is a tabloid exposure of what can be complex issues in the lives of American workers.