Feature, Musings —03.05.2022 03:40 PM—
My latest: no more spying on people – in Russia or here
Do you think Vladimir Putin spies on his employees?
Of course he does. He’s literally a former KGB spy. And Putin has established a vast surveillance infrastructure in Russia — which he uses to squash dissent and crush his critics.
Being spied on by your superiors is never, ever good — in Russia or anywhere else. But is it against the law in Canada?
The answer may surprise you: Not so much.
Now, in Ontario, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton has initiated a raft of legislation to foster a better employer-employee relationship. Among McNaughton’s changes: A worker’s bill of rights, to prevent bosses from imposing on workers’ personal time — and a ban of non-compete clauses, which have the effect of trapping employees hoping to find a new job.
McNaughton’s ministry has won accolades from labour organizations — one of which, full disclosure, my firm represents — for his efforts to protect workers from intrusive and/or bullying bosses.
But what about Canada-wide? Are workers currently protected from being spied on by their employers, online and off?
If Liberal MP Michael Coteau has his way, they will be.
Coteau represents a Toronto-area riding. He’s also been a senior minister at the provincial level under past Liberal governments. And Coteau is this week bringing forward a legislative package to prevent employers from spying on their workers, anywhere in Canada.
“I’m doing this because there has been a huge growth in employer monitoring of employees who work from home — and there are virtually no protections for employees, no rules for employee consent, no rules about data storage.” says Coteau.
“Is your boss spying on you at home? As creepy as it sounds, it is happening more and more. Over the past two years there has been a massive growth in employee monitoring software and no one is talking about this. I think we need to do something about it.”
Privacy rules across Canada are a patchwork of laws and regulations — many of which never anticipated the sort of software that companies can now use to monitor employees after-hours. Over the course of pandemic, Coteau says, “there’s been a huge increase in employer surveillance of employees who work from home, and without privacy protections or consent.”
“Surveillance technology,” as it’s sometimes called, isn’t anything new. Workers at warehouses or those who do so-called gig work have long been the targets of high-tech that is welded to track their whereabouts, and what they are doing.
But, in the past two years, such technology has become more and more sophisticated — and more and more intrusive, says Coteau. As a Ryerson University Leadership Lab report said last year, “digital technologies played a critical role in connecting employers with employees beyond the physical workplace and into employees’ homes (during the COVID-19 pandemic).” The problem, however, is that the new software didn’t just allow employees to work remotely. “It also enabled employers to track, monitor and analyze workers,” said the report’s authors.
So, if your iPhone can access sensitive work documents when you’re at home, your boss may also be able to see what’s on your phone — or tablet, or desktop computer. Remote access sometimes works two ways, giving you access to work stuff. But it may also be giving your boss full access to what you are doing after-hours.
Coteau has support from MPs across the political spectrum. And he intends to bring forward his package next week.
Says the MP: “I’ll be working with my colleagues in the House — and other legislators and key opinion leaders across Canada — to bring forward a comprehensive package, including a Private Members’ Bill, to address the issue.”
“Should your boss be able to turn your camera on and watch you at home without your knowledge? I say no way!”
Us, too. We don’t need Vladimir Putin’s approach to privacy.
In Canada, or anywhere.
— Kinsella is a lawyer and has been an adjunct professor of law at the University of Calgary