“We reserve the right to scan your computer to validate that Anti-Virus software is installed and configured correctly and has an up-to-date virus database installed“…. “We reserve the right to carry out an onsite check of your information technology systems, physical and information security processes and measures to ensure best practice and compliance with clauses 6.15 and 6.16 up to twice a year throughout the duration of this agreement upon reasonable prior written notice, except in case of an emergency”.
According to a recent discussion of translators on LinkedIn, the text above is contained in a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that a translation agency based in Great Britain (thebigword) is sending to “freelance translators” who might be interested in working for this particular agency.
Why would a translation agency want to do something as intrusive and demeaning, as well as clearly illegal, to freelance translators who are otherwise treated as independent business owners who must supply their own skills, equipment and workplace, usually their own home, as well as to pay their taxes on their own?
The real reason for this clause is obviously not “to validate” proper installation of virus software. Apart from the fact that “validation” is the wrong term here because this is something that only the software company that sold software to a customer can do, given that such a large agency works with hundreds if not thousands of people that translation agencies refer to as “vendors”, the “validation” would simply be too time-consuming.
The real reason for the clause must be something else.
So what could be the real reason for including such an implausible clause in a contract? I can think of several reasons for trying to claim the right to do something as brazenly arrogant and as obviously illegal as spying on the content of other people’s hard disks.
1. The owner of the translation agency is coming up with rules like this because he is insane
I mean clinically insane, based on objective criteria used in institutions providing psychiatric treatment. That would pretty much explain everything. The owner of the agency and/or the people who would put such a clause in an agreement simply want to rule the world and nobody and nothing will stop them from trying to accomplish just that. It is quite possible that they are (or believe they are) direct descendants of Genghis Khan and the urge to rule the world is so strongly encoded in their genetic makeup that they could not really resist this overwhelming urge they have even if they tried to resist the powerful urge (so it it’s easier to just give in to it).
2. The agency wants to know all your secrets, such as who your other clients might be
If you give somebody who is in the same business as you are the right to spy on you through your hard disk, they will most likely try to find on your hard disk information that will be beneficial to their business, such as who are your other clients, how much they pay you under what payment terms, what kind of translations you do for them, etc. A lot of strategically important information could be gleaned from this kind of spying on translators by a translation agency.
This would then mean that the people who came up with this rule are not really insane, at least not clinically speaking, only willing to engage in activities that would be clearly illegal in most countries on the basis of a number of laws. Here in the United States, for example, such spying would clash with freedom of speech (because you have none if other people can spy on what is on your hard disk in your own home), or protection of competitive marketplace through antitrust laws. It also means that by including this scandalous clause in a contract, a translation agency is attempting to induce a translator (independent business owner) who signs such an agreement to violate his or her other Non-Disclosure Agreements with other clients.
3. The agency is only interested in semi-slave labor or indentured servants
If you have the right to spy on the content of other people’s hard disks, this will give you such a wide range of control over these people that they could be easily described as slaves or indentured servants whose first duty is to be obedient, compliant and submissive to their masters. This kind of semi-slave labor would be very advantageous to a translation agency because the agency could obviously dictate lower and lower rates and more stringent working conditions that would have to be gratefully accepted by its laborers.
How do you say no to somebody who may have so much possibly compromising information on everything that you have on your own computer, such as which sites you visit and who your friends are, including possibly even how much money is in your banking account? Such a completely defenseless person could be very easily intimidated into accepting even more miserable rates and working conditions.
“The right to carry out an onsite check of your information technology systems, physical and information security processes and measures to ensure best practice and compliance with clauses 6.15 and 6.16 up to twice a year” also seems to be perfectly consistent with the concept that a translator who works for this translation agency is considered to be basically a slave or an indentured servant rather than an independent business owner who is free to sell his or her skills and experience to multiple buyers in a well functioning market system.
If they have the right to come to your home (and they don’t even have to let you know that they are coming “in case of an emergency” …. what kind of an emergency?), what right do they not have?
Ius primae noctis, (also referred to as droit du seigneur, which was the right of the lord to the marriage bed on the first night of a serf’s marriage), is the only right that I have not seen yet mentioned in the online discussions among “freelance translators”.
As the year 2014 is drawing to an end, I will be following with interest new clauses that some translation agencies of the totalitarian persuasion will start including in their contracts with “freelance translators” in the year 2015.
The good old Ius primae noctis seems like a good candidate for Clause 6.17.