Privacy watchdog rules that firms can use GPS devices to track employees whereabouts

by Andrew Roach on September 2, 2013

With many federal agencies coming down hard on those who breach online privacy regulations, more and more people have looked to get the rules carried across to other forms of monitoring purposes.

One of the mostly hotly contested issues is surrounding the tracking of workers by their bosses to ensure that they are doing their job and the national privacy watchdog believes that this practice is perfectly ok to use.

This ruling comes after two elevator companies in British Columbia successfully won their case to monitor their workers through GPS devices such as smartphones and vehicles.

The case was originally brought about after union workers at ThyssenKrupp and Kone Inc felt that the technology breached their privacy rights. div style=”float: right”>

However, the Office for the Information and Privacy Commissioner found the methods were suitable for the industry that they were where some sort of remote supervision was needed.

This was underlined by privacy adjudicator Ross Alexander who in the Kone Inc case noted that conventional supervision methods were not applicable in their line of work. This was underlined in the ruling which stated: “Kone mechanics are a mobile workforce who generally work alone in widely distributed geographic areas, so regular in-person supervision is not practical.”

A similar verdict was reached in the ThyssenKrupp case although that case was based around the use of GPS in vehicles rather than the use of smartphones as in the Kone case.

The verdict has upset several personal privacy groups who feel that tracking employees through electronic aids, particularly cell phones, is unacceptable and taking advantage of loopholes in the law.

These views were best represented by Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the Freedom for Information and Privacy Association who felt that companies were really pushing the limits of what is generally acceptable. This was represented in comments made to CBC where he said: “The tracking of somebody in a company or government-supplied vehicle is one thing, but when it’s a cellphone, then it’s something that’s actually on your person as you walk around. We’re now starting to get pretty close to the line.”

It’s not the first time that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner has sided with employers having reached a similar verdict in two cases dating back to December last year.

With more and more people becoming concerned about their privacy, it’s understandable that workers would want to have some freedoms but their concerns will also need to be addressed with the industry they work in to find a solution that works best for both workers and employers.

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