Workplace Web snooping catching on

Although Canadian companies appear to be monitoring their employees’ e-mail and Internet use at an increasing rate, there is not yet any privacy legislation in place that requires employees to be notified, according to a senior official from Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commission (IPC).

Brian Beamish, the IPC’s director of policy and compliance in Toronto, indicated that in the current climate of potentially unfettered employee surveillance, it is critical for a company to fully inform its staff of any and all cyber-tracking.

“There may be good reasons for monitoring,” Beamish said, “but these reasons have to be defined and the monitoring has to fit those purposes.”

Beamish’s comments follow a recent report conducted by the Denver-based Privacy Foundation suggesting that one-third of the entire U.S. online workforce – an estimated 14 million workers – have their e-mail and cyber-explorations regularly monitored.

“If it’s happening in the States, I’m very sure it’s happening here,” said Boris Zvonkovic, the manager of information systems services for Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Both Zvonkovic and Beamish noted that public interest in issues of electronic privacy is noticeably on the rise. Until workplace e-privacy legislation is introduced both officials agreed that the key to avoiding an aura of suspicion and hostility in the workplace is encouraging employee participation in the development of an organization’s e-monitoring policy.