Canada: Monitoring The Mayor – B.C. Mayor Alleges That Computer Monitoring Violated His Privacy

A recent case involving the Mayor of the District of Saanich in British Columbia illustrates the fine balance that employers must achieve between protecting secure networks and complying with privacy laws.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia (the "Commissioner") has issued an investigation report on the use of security software by the District of Saanich (the "District"), which illustrates the importance of undergoing a privacy audit of new and existing programs and policies. With Canadian privacy law moving towards increased regulation and greater penalties in both the public and private spheres, companies and agencies seeking to limit liability must identify whether their programs and policies encroach on personal privacy.

The Commissioner's Investigation

The Commissioner's investigation concerned the District's use of monitoring software on employee computers, including on the Mayor's, and its compliance with the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act ("FIPPA"). In British Columbia the collection, use, or disclosure of employees' personal information is governed by FIPPA in the public sector and the Personal Information Protection Act ("PIPA") in the private sector.

In her report, the Commissioner recognized that public agencies have a responsibility to protect against significant internal and external threats to their computer systems and network. Such threats include malware, social engineering and unauthorized access by employees. The District sought to defend against these threats by installing monitoring software on employee computers that:

  • captured screenshots of computer activity at 30 second intervals;
  • documented keystroke patterns;
  • copied every email sent and received;
  • logged all websites visited;
  • monitored and logged chat and instant messaging; and
  • tracked file transfers, program activity, file modification, and other network activity.

The District argued that its use of the monitoring software was strictly to maintain the security and integrity of its computer systems. The District indicated that the information collected by the software would only be made accessible on the occurrence of a "security event", and even then, only to two people in the IT department.

While the District's surveillance software had a security purpose, the Commissioner noted that the software also recorded and retained the personal information of employees without their knowledge or consent. The District argued that it had not actually "collected" personal information within the meaning of applicable privacy legislation since it had not acted on any of the information obtained. The Commissioner disagreed and held that the District misunderstood the purpose of FIPPA. In finding that the use of the monitoring software was contrary to B.C. FIPPA, the Commissioner made the following observation:

One of the most disappointing findings in my investigation of the District of Saanich's use of employee monitoring software is the near-complete lack of awareness and understanding of the privacy provisions of B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Public agencies, including municipal governments, have been subject to these comprehensive privacy laws for over 20 years. Yet the District went ahead and installed monitoring software, enabling automated screen shots and keystroke logging and other intrusive monitoring tools, without considering how these actions would measure up to their privacy obligations under the law.

Key Takeaways from the Commissioner's Investigation

The Commissioner's findings demonstrate that violations of privacy law can often be unintentional and indirect. Complying with Canadian privacy law involves navigating through a complicated web of legislation, as each Canadian jurisdiction has public, private and, sometimes, industry-specific privacy legislation. Therefore, companies that operate across multiple jurisdictions may have to simultaneously comply with multiple statutes as well as the common law (and, in Quebec, the Civil Code). This complex web of regulation, combined with the broad scope of the Canadian privacy law regime, makes it difficult for companies and agencies to know whether their programs and policies—especially those not directly related to privacy issues—are compliant with applicable privacy law. While this may explain non-compliance, it does not excuse it. The Commissioner noted that:

"[E]mployees do not check their privacy rights at the office door. There is a right to privacy in the workplace, which has been upheld by Canadian courts and must be respected by public bodies as they consider what security controls are necessary to protect information in government networks."

From a financial and reputational perspective, compliance with privacy laws and principles has become more important than ever. Not only can the cost of cooperating and responding to a privacy commissioner investigation be expensive, the current trend in Canadian privacy law is towards increasing penalties for non-compliance. Moreover, in a culture where employees and customers are increasingly sensitive to the unwanted use of their personal information, the reputational damage caused by non-compliance with privacy laws may be greater than any financial penalty.

While it is incumbent on companies to notify individuals of the collection, use or disclosure of their personal information, the provision of such notice is only feasible if organizations are aware of the inadvertent consequences of their programs and policies. Employers should draft these notices carefully, as they may later be held strictly to the uses and purposes of collection set out therein. For example, an Employer may not be able to use information collected for disciplinary purposes, where the notice stated that the information was being collected solely for security purposes.

As illustrated by the Commissioner's investigation into the District's use of security software, determining whether a particular policy triggers considerations under privacy laws may not always be intuitive. Companies seeking to limit their exposure to financial and reputational liability should audit their current and prospective policies and consult with their legal counsel to ensure compliance with applicable laws and avoid the risks associated with non-compliance.

The foregoing provides only an overview and does not constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal advice should be obtained.

© McMillan LLP 2015

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Lyndsay A. Wasser
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions