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Accountability and Accounting Information Systems

Computer-based systems to monitor individuals are not new, but they may be expanding to cover and control more activities of an employee’s 24/7/365 life. The objective of total information awareness would seem to provide additional assurance as a detective control over the risk of employee misconduct applicable to commonly perceived bad acts such as watching porn with the company computer while on or off the clock to taking personal shopping detours with the company vehicle. Undoubtedly, many managers would enjoy the reassurance accompanying such computer-based awareness, though they may not wholeheartedly appreciate such techniques applied routinely, whether overtly or covertly, to themselves. Mostly everybody has a reporting obligation upstream.

Surveillance reduces the risk of fraud. Compare this concept with the idea of an omniscient deity that knows, judges, and punishes for every wrongful act committed by its ‘free-willed’ subjects. The chief operating officer would experience enhanced control over employee conduct, even having additional tools to monitor indirectly the conduct of independent contractors, though the risk of exerting such control may result in the legal interpretation that such contractors are not independent but are controlled employees.

Chief financial officers have long been accustomed to the necessity of detective (and preventive and compensating) controls. For example, the SEC oversees many U.S. laws with which CFOs are concerned as they fulfill their financial reporting obligations. Accounting and corroborating financial data are too important not to be governed by law, regulation, industry, and entity practices.

Together, COOs and CFOs are often empowered to monitor and control not only information but the information providers. However, the experiences of being controlling and being controlled are materially different. One may begin with study of the Hawthorne effect, but the detriments of being controlled are well known to anyone, scholar and layperson, who has been subjected to such prolonged examination as another’s object. Intriguing is the desire to be protected from both wrongdoers and intrusive snooping. In the post-Snowden society, the objects of control are more or less aware of the subjects administering the controlling instruments, including their employers, and the costs of these control activities need to be studied beyond their immediate effects on productivity.