December 1, 2006

Privacy Commissioner urges caution before installing GPS in company vehicles

Ottawa, Ontario – Employers need to consider the privacy rights of workers before installing Global Positioning Systems (GPS) into their vehicle fleets, according to Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) has released a summary of its findings into a case involving the workplace use of GPS, which can track the location of a vehicle in real time. In the case, several workers complained that their employer, a telecommunications company, is using GPS to improperly collect their personal information, including their daily movements while on the job.

The company uses GPS in its vehicles to locate, dispatch and route employees to job sites in installation, repair and construction vehicles. However, some workers are worried that GPS is also being used to monitor work performance, and that information gleaned from the technology will be used to justify disciplinary action.

The OPC investigation accepted most of the company’s arguments for using GPS, including better customer service and to help locate missing vehicles; however, the OPC expressed concern about using GPS as an employee surveillance tool.

The OPC finding cautions employers about “function creep”: collecting information for one purpose, and then using it for some other unrelated purpose, in violation of basic fair information practices.

“Managing workplace privacy is a balancing act,” Stoddart says. “On the one hand, employers have the right to know what workers are up to on company time. On the other, employees have a right to privacy. Workers do not check their privacy rights at the factory or office door. Workplace privacy is an important part of the basic autonomy rights of individuals in our society. Employers must find ways to weed out the bad employees without shattering the dignity and privacy rights of the good employees who make up the vast majority of the workforce.”

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