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Technology brings into question workplace privacy

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Surfing the web during work hours could be monitored by your employer.





We all do it. From the occasional personal call to a little web surfing at work, but remember your activites may be being monitored.


Through the contribution of the Federal Privacy Commissioner, Ryerson University conducted a research project about the policies and practices of workplace privacy. Last week Ryerson University held a workshop to discuss their findings.


“Privacy is a very central right,” says Valerie Georgewill, communications officer at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. “Employers do have the right to know what their employees are doing on company time, but just because I come into work doesn’t mean I give up my right to privacy.”


Avner Levin, a professor of law at Ryerson and a member of the research investigating privacy in the workplace, says, “New policies should be specific both in terms of the monitoring technologies involved, and in terms of the purposes of such monitoring.”


The problems arise when the employees are unaware of the surveillance technologies being used and when the collection of information for one purpose is used for something different.


The research reflected that many employees are concerned about GPS systems installed in company vehicles being used to measure performance.


“Systematically keeping track of employees using this to evaluate workers performance infringes on personal privacy,” says Georgewill. “Employees need to have awareness of what’s going on before it’s implemented.”


So what kind of impact will these findings have on the workplace? Levin believes initially it will be negative.


“New policies will initially have a negative impact as professionals realize the extent of surveillance and monitoring in the workplace, an extent which they are not fully aware of now,” he predicts. “However, in the long term, clarity and specificity will only contribute to workplace trust, which Canadian employers repeatedly identified in our research as the cornerstone of the employment relationship.”


According to Georgewill the key lies in finding the right balance between the needs of employers and the rights of employees.


“Employers have to figure out a way to weed out the bad employees without shattering the dignity and rights of the good employees who make up the majority of the workforce,” she says.


So what can you do? Levin suggests being pro-active. “Ask your employer for policies and procedure regarding the equipment you use,” he suggests. “Ask as well about other forms of technology that can be used to create databases of your personal information, such as digital video cameras in the workplace, digital phone systems and magnetic card swipes. What is done with these data logs? Who uses them and for what purposes? Employers may not have readily available answers, but the questions will encourage them to begin the process of developing policies and practices, and put workplace privacy on their radar screen where it belongs.”



kgosyne@yahoo.ca

 
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