Through our advocacy work in 2022, the IPC submitted comments, open letters, and recommendations on various proposed laws and regulations having privacy implications.
Before the pandemic, relatively few Canadians regularly worked from home. During the first few months of 2022, about 46 percent of employees worked from home at least some of the time. Demand for workplace monitoring and remote surveillance tools has dramatically accelerated as employers seek alternate ways of ensuring productivity and accountability in the workforce. Employee monitoring software also referred to as “bossware” — can have many different capabilities, including the ability to: monitor all computing device activity; record employees through webcams and microphones; and track employee location, movements, and activities. When combined with powerful algorithms that can analyze patterns in the data and make inferences about employees’ conduct, behaviours, and even their aptitudes and sentiments, the potential for privacy invasion and discriminatory practices can become very real, very quickly.
The government responded in part to these threats by introducing Bill 88, the Working for Workers Act, which requires employers with twenty-five or more employees to have a written policy explaining their electronic employee monitoring activities. In April, the commissioner presented her views on the bill to the Standing Committee on Social Policy at the Legislature of Ontario. While the commissioner acknowledged this important first step in increasing transparency of electronic monitoring practices, she pressed the government to go further by requiring greater accountability as well.
There must be clear boundaries around acceptable use of electronic surveillance and rules against monitoring employees surreptitiously or when not on the job. Ontario’s workers must have mechanisms to complain when employers don’t comply with these policies and ask for an investigation and redress if the policies aren’t followed. Overly-invasive policies should be reviewed by an independent regulator with the power to effect course correction. Ultimately, these issues of electronic workplace monitoring should be governed by a more comprehensive Ontario private sector privacy law, similar to the one proposed in the government’s 2021 white paper, Modernizing Privacy in Ontario. We urge the government to resume its bold and ambitious efforts to address glaring gaps in statutory privacy protections in Ontario, including for employee privacy.