Voiceprints not a violation of privacy

Storing voiceprints for employee identification not unreasonable: Federal Court of Appeal

The Federal Court of Appeal has upheld a decision by the privacy commissioner that collecting and storing voiceprints for voice recognition technology used to remotely access a company’s internal computer network does not violate the privacy of employees.

Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus Communications Inc. introduced a new technology in 2003 called “eSpeak,” which provides a secure way for employees to access the company’s network remotely from any telephone and perform various operations when working in the field. To access the network through eSpeak, employees must verify their identity using a voiceprint identification system.

Telus identified certain employees who work in the field and need to remotely access the company’s network and requested their consent to enrol in the eSpeak system. Enrolment involves creating a voiceprint consisting of a “matrix of numbers that represent characteristics of the employee’s voice and vocal tract.” Each employee’s voiceprint is based on a sample of his voice but is not an actual audio sample. The voiceprint data is stored by Telus for as long as the individual works for Telus. The actual voice sample is destroyed within two months of it being taken.

Three employees — Randy Turner, Paul Wansink and Paul Bernat — refused to enrol, claiming the collection of voiceprints was an invasion of privacy and the company could not obtain the information without their consent under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). They also claimed the company had threatened to carry out “progressive discipline” to those who refused the enrolment, which is also not permitted under PIPEDA. The three men filed a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. A fourth employee, Henry Fenske, who submitted his voiceprint but claims he was coerced, joined in the complaint.

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