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Online Privacy at Your Workplace Must Be Protected: Supreme Court of Canada

Online privacy is something that we worry about almost every day. It has escalated to such a level that you have to worry about online privacy at your workplace also. While the people who exploit your privacy outside your workplace, and sometimes inside it too, are online miscreants such as hackers, the main culprits inside your workplace are your employers. Employers have time and again argued and maintained that you have no privacy while working on a computer that belongs to their organization.

But the winds of change are blowing and a recent verdict by the Supreme Court of Canada has stressed that online privacy rights should be allowed to survive inside the workplace also when you are using machines belonging to your employers. However, there is a catch and you cannot altogether expect it to be treated like your personal computer as the employers have a right to monitor what you do  during working hours.

Case of School v/s A Teacher Highlights Privacy Concerns

The aforementioned verdict came in after a case involving a school teacher as the culprit  was filed by the school. In this particular case, the school teacher was using the laptop, which  was issued by the school for official and limited personal use, to conduct some criminal activities against the students of the school. The laptop was screened by a member of the school’s tech team and this offense was spotted. The teacher was charged and sentenced as well, but a sub-section of the trial involved privacy rights of the teacher being violated by the school authorities by going through her computer without her permission.

Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

The court looked into different scenarios involving the employer and the employee’s privacy and came to a tentative conclusion that the employee can have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This is despite the fact that the employer has not mentioned anywhere in the employment agreement that  privacy rights of the employees will be enforced. One of the concerns that the court repeatedly explored was the fact that workplace computers also have information that is, to quote the proceedings, ‘intimate, meaningful and touching the user’s biographical core’. What this essentially means is that the information can be used to evaluate the user as a person and that is the reason why privacy must be ensured.

Totality of Circumstances to be Considered

The court also mentioned that the organization should consider all the circumstances together when violating online privacy intentionally in a workplace. For example, in the case of the school teacher mentioned above, she was involved in illegal activities using the school’s resources. This is wrong and there are no two ways about it. However, the question here is that did the school’s tech team probe the computer based on reasonable doubt or it was just a routine check. If it was the latter, the school is at fault.

Exercise Some Discretion While Using Workplace Resources

The only solution to this problem is that you should exercise some discretion while using the resources at your workplace. For example, if you use your office laptop to watch adult content in private, it is right on the part of your employer to screen your usage and reprimand you if need be. So, you should understand that you are under an obligation to make optimum usage of your workplace’s resources and ensure that you do so.

To sum it up, this issue falls in a grey area of online privacy enforcement and there is no right and wrong in this. All you can hope for is to just make sure that you do your best to protect your online privacy.

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