Michael Coteau
Michael Coteau
Member of Parliament for Don Valley East
Protecting the Digital Privacy of Canadians Who Work from Home

Backgrounder

March 7, 2022

Michael Coteau, Member of Parliament for Don Valley East, today launched a national public consultation to address the issue of digital surveillance by employers of Canadians who work from home. The intention is to better understand how prevalent the issue is in Canada, and to investigate such issues as employee permission rights, what data employers are collecting, how these data are being stored and protected, and the impact that this is having on Canadian workers and employers.

Upon completion of this national discussion, MP Coteau’s intention would be to introduce a bill to create new law to better protect Canadians who work from home.

Background:
The workplace, like many other areas of life, has drastically shifted because of COVID. As high as 60% of Canadians worked from home during the pandemic. Along with these changes we saw a drastic increase in-home employee software-based surveillance.

Surveillance software demand increased by almost 90% in 2020. Surveillance software ranged from basic technology like webcam and keystroke capturing to more sophisticated methods that use Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and facial recognition to rate workplace performance and output.

Most digital workplace surveillance occurs in unregulated environments and raises serious questions on the need to create new legislative protections for workers and rules for employers.

COVID-19 caused a monumental change in the Canadian workforce, with reports that as many as 59% of employees worked remotely in July 2020. Technological changes were required for these employees to work remotely, and many employers met this change by installing surveillance software. Demand around the world for employee surveillance technologies increased by 87% in April 2020. Many of these technologies collect data that intrude on the privacy of Canadians and change the power balance between employers and employees.

Discussions around the surveillance of people working from home can also be viewed through the impact that it has on low-wage and marginalized employees, many of whom might also be from racialized communities. The use of A.I. and non-transparent performance measurement algorithms have the potential to create added stress to workers and create workplace ‘norms’ that are unhealthy and dehumanizing.

Weaknesses of the Current System:
The collection, use, and disclosure of personal information for commercial activities are regulated by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and some provincial statutes. In the context of employee information, PIPEDA applies only to federally regulated organizations, which is 10% of the workforce. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada argues the main issue with PIPEDA is its enforcement model and the inability of the Privacy Commissioner to hold organizations accountable , which has led to instances of non-compliance. In the age of big data, governments have a duty to protect the digital privacy of employees and to deal with the current practices in digital surveillance.

Developing Safeguards:
Over the coming months MP Coteau intends to address the issue of digital surveillance of Canadians in their own homes, to eliminate unwarranted surveillance, to require employers to disclose when surveillance methods are being deployed, and to restrict the use, storage and sale of data that are collected from employees.

Over the next several months Coteau will:

  [1] PricewaterhouseCoopers, “Canadian workforce of the future survey,” 2020, https://www.pwc.com/ca/en/today-s-issues/upskilling/canadian-pulse-survey.html
[2] Migliano, Simon, and O’Donnell, Christine, “Employee Surveillance Software Demand up 56% Since Pandemic Started,” TopVPb, February 10, 2022, https://www.top10vpn.com/research/covid-employee-surveillance/
[3] Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, The Case For Reforming The Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents Act, May 2013, https://www.priv.gc.ca/media/1324/pipeda_r_201305_e.pdf
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