Employee consent, surveillance on the table in PIPEDA review

Deadline for public input on privacy legislation review is Sept. 7
By Uyen Vu
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/13/2006

Should the federal government introduce a special category that would exempt workplace surveillance from privacy protection? Many organizations know they need consent when collecting, storing and using information, but should employee consent be a must if the information is needed to hire, manage or terminate the person?

These will likely be two issues up for discussion in the fall when the first scheduled review of the federal privacy legislation gets under way. The legislation, which came into force in 2001 for federally regulated businesses, now applies to all commercial activity in provinces that don’t have a substantially similar law. Only Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia have privacy legislation that has been deemed to be substantially similar to the federal law. Ontario has a substantially similar law that applies only to the collection, use and disclosure of health information by health information custodians.

Last month federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart released an outline of the issues on which she’s seeking public input. The deadline for input is Sept. 7.

The list of topics Stoddart is interested in includes such issues as the commissioner’s powers, disclosure of personal information prior to the transfer of businesses, the duty to notify individuals of a privacy breach, flow of data across borders and information sharing with other data protecting authorities.

Among two work-related issues she identified is the question as to how workplace surveillance may be categorized. Under B.C.’s privacy law, for example, the category of “work product” is defined as “information prepared or collected by an individual or group of individuals as a part of the individual’s or group’s responsibilities or activities related to the individual’s or group’s employment.”

This category falls outside the definition of “personal information” and is not protected under the federal law. If this category is included in PIPEDA, for example, worker surveillance through video, audio or keystroke tracking tools at the workplace may not constitute privacy violation.

The discussion paper and information on how to provide input can be found



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