Canadian employers in a wide range of industries conduct surveillance of employees at work, suggests a report to be released on Monday.
Produced by Toronto's Ryerson University, the study called "Under the Radar" asked Canadian businesses about surveillance of their employees.
Employers view closed-circuit television cameras, listen to recorded phone calls, monitor e-mails and scan magnetic information from security passes, said lead author Avner Levin.
Levin, a law professor at the university, said he isn't surprised at the methods, but was taken aback by employers' attitudes toward employee privacy.
"Nobody said this is a problem, or even something they have to deal with in a proactive way. It's just simply under the radar," said Levin.
Human resources executives responsible for workplace privacy often have little knowledge of the potential intrusiveness of technologies at work in their own companies, he said.
They rarely know what information is being collected by colleagues running company computer systems, he said.
"The executives that are responsible for privacy in the workplace are not fully aware of the extent of ... the surveillance activity that is conducted," he said.
Managersoften work without guidelinesabout how to respond if surveillance reveals an employee behaving suspiciously, said Levin.
E-mails monitored: U.K., U.S. study
The Ryerson study follows a large workplace survey in the United States and Britain, which suggested 40 per cent of employers regularly read employees' e-mails.
University of Ottawa privacy expert Michael Geist says Canadian firms are likely close behind.
"I donât have any doubt that we're going to find more and more companies doing it," he said. "To move directly to full-on monitoring of e-mail use is as invasive as it comes."
The founder of Ottawa e-mail security firm Roaring Penguin warns companies must carefully consider their policies on e-mail.
"If you just put the technology in place and add a whole bunch of rules without thinking about what you're trying to do, you're probably blocking a lot of mail that shouldn't be blocked, letting stuff out that should be blocked and most importantly, irritating employees," said David Skoll.
Spell out polices: privacy laws
Canada has two federal privacy laws: the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
The Privacy Act limits the personal information federal government departments and agencies can collect from Canadians.
Employees in federally regulated industries and the private sector are protected by PIPEDA, which says employers must let employees know what personal information is being collected and for what purpose. Employees must be able to see that information.
"At a minimum, employers should tell their employees what personal information will be collected, used, and disclosed," says the website of Canada's Privacy Commissioner.
"They should inform employees of their policies on web, e-mail, and telephone use, for example. If employees are subject to random or continuous surveillance, they need to be told so."