Sunday, October 10, 2004

Assistant Commissioner concludes that workplace video surveillance is not acceptable, even if less intrusive measures are much more expensive

In a finding released by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the Assistant Commissioner concluded that an ISP was not compliant with PIPEDA by installing video cameras in the workplace for the purposes of security and monitoring productivity of unsupervised employees:

Commissioner's Findings - PIPED Act Case Summary #279: Surveillance of employees at work - July 26, 2004:

"A former employee of an internet service provider believed that the company was acting contrary to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (the Act ) when it installed web cameras to monitor the performance of employees."

In short, the Assistant Commissioner concluded that the cameras were too intrusive and the issues could be addressed by other means, even if those means were substantially more expensive (hiring supervisory staff to be at the site in the evenings and on weekends):

The Assistant Commissioner commented that the underlying purpose for the cameras really appeared to be one of deterrence – deterrence of theft, harassment, malingering, criticism, or other behaviour an employer may not like. She noted that privacy-intrusive measures can always fulfil such objectives at minimal financial cost. The Act, however, demands that the cost to human dignity form part of the equation. Continuous, indiscriminate surveillance of employees, she noted, was based on a lack of trust and treats all individuals with suspicion when the underlying problems may rest with a few individuals or with a management plan that may not be entirely sound. The effect, she commented, of such omnipresent observation was stifling. While it may prevent undesirable behaviour, it also forces the employee to call into question every potential action, every potential comment no matter how benign. The goal of ensuring adherence to the company's vision comes at too high a price to our individual autonomy and freedom.

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