Science

Privacy commissioner cautions employers adding GPS to cars

Employers must consider the privacy of their workers before installing global positioning systems into their vehicle fleets, according to Canada's federal privacy commissioner.

Employers must consider the privacy of their workers before installing global positioning systems into their vehicle fleets, according to Canada's federal privacy commissioner.

AGPS sends and receives signals from satellites to determine its location, speed and direction. Used in a vehicle, the device allows a driver to plot the best directions to a location, but it could also allow employers to track their movements.

"Systematically using GPS to check up on workers and try to determine how well they are doing their jobs would be going too far," said Jennifer Stoddart at a workplace privacy seminar on Thursday.

"Employers do not have carte blanche to use GPS to constantly monitor their workforce."

Stoddartannounced the findings of an Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) reporton a case where workers at a telecommunications company complained the use of GPS to track their daily movements on the job was an invasion of privacy.

The employer argued the GPS allowed them to better dispatch vehicles to customers and to track missing vehicles.

The OPC accepted these as valid reasons, but said employers wishing to monitor an employee's activities should spell out a policy with specific conditions and with the consent of its employees.

An employer could monitor an employee to address productivity problems or to follow up on a complaint from a member of the public about, for example, unsafe driving.

The OPC's findings also warned employers about "function creep," where information is collected for one purpose but used for another.

The commissioner's report comes on the same day Telus introduced a new GPS package for business fleets, featuring a new handset navigation tool that allows employers to track location, speed and idle time, and also doubles as a walkie-talkie.

Stoddart said the rise in use of GPS makes it particularly important to spell out boundaries for employers.

"This is an important issue for employers and employees across Canada. We’re seeing more and more organizations installing GPS in their cars and trucks and it’s unclear whether they are adequately addressing privacy issues,"she said.

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