Recent scandal highlights privacy concerns at the workplace

Employee privacy rights are at the centre of a recent spyware scandal involving Saanich municipal workers.

Privacy Commissioner criticizes district's "lack of understanding" of privacy law

The British Columbia Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham says that a "lack of understanding" of privacy law is partly to blame for spyware being installed on the computers of municipal workers in Saanich, according to the Times-Colonist. The incident has exposed serious questions about employee privacy in the workplace and the difficulties employers sometimes face when dealing with privacy law. The software had been installed as a way of addressing security concerns, but the Privacy Commissioner found that the District of Saanich had failed to notify or obtain the consent of its employees before installing the software.

Privacy rights violated

Concerns about the software, called Spector 360, were first raised by Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell in January. The software had been installed on his computer and the computers of other elected and municipal officials in December. The Mayor's concerns led to the Privacy Commissioner's investigation and report into the situation.

Spector 360 is an employee-monitoring program that can record screenshots, monitor keystrokes and keep track of activity on other computer applications. That information can ultimately be used to collect employees' passwords and sensitive financial information. Ironically, while the program had been installed over concerns about cyber-security at municipal offices, the collection of such personal information, the Privacy Commissioner claimed, actually made municipal employees more vulnerable to a cyber-attack.

Employee privacy

In her report, the commissioner noted a "deep lack of understanding" of privacy law on the part of the District of Saanich. A central problem with the Spector 360 scandal is that the district had not obtained the consent of municipal employees before installing the software on their computers. The report has since led to Spector 360 being uninstalled from municipal computers and the data that had been collected being destroyed.

The case is just the latest example of privacy issues that have arisen as the result of rapidly developing technology. As CBC News recently reported, for example, more companies have become reliant on tracking apps and other programs to monitor employees' activities. While such programs are often perfectly legitimate business practices, companies need to be careful of not violating their employees' privacy rights, especially when those technologies are used outside of the workplace.

Legal advice

Understanding what those rights are requires the assistance of an employment lawyer who is well versed in privacy law. As the above article shows, how privacy and employment law interact with one another is changing quickly and it pays to consult with a lawyer who can provide valuable advice on how to deal with these evolving issues.

Keywords: scandal highlights, privacy concerns, workplace, Privacy Commissioner criticizes, lack of understanding, employee privacy, Times-Colonist, employee-monitoring program, CBC News, Legal advice.