Canada: Fourteen Not-So-Simple Rules For Implementing A BYOD Program

In case you missed it over the summer, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, together with the Alberta and British Columbia Privacy Commissioners, teamed up to create guidelines (the Guidelines) to address what employers should consider when implementing policies that allow employees to use their own mobile devices for both work and personal purposes (i.e., a Bring Your Own Device or BYOD policy).

Employers often cite cost savings and convenience as reasons for instituting BYOD policies. Further, as employees are quite often already using their own devices for business purposes (or their work devices for personal purposes), implementing a formal BYOD policy allows employers to clarify the rules and expectations with respect to such use.  Notwithstanding the apparent benefits of having a BYOD arrangement, the Guidelines convey an underlying message that such arrangements should be approached with caution in light of the requirements contained in applicable privacy legislation. Specifically, the obligation to maintain the security of personal information.


The complete Guidelines can be found here. For your convenience, we have summarized the Guidelines below:

  1. Ensure commitment by Senior Management: The Guidelines state that senior management must clearly show that they are committed to identifying and fully addressing the privacy and security risks that accompany the implementation of a BYOD arrangement. Presumably, implementing policies and procedures related to BYOD is a good place to start, but it doesn't necessarily end there.
  2. Conduct privacy impact & threat risk assessments: Prior to developing a BYOD policy, employers must identify and take steps to address risks arising from the collection, use, disclosure, storage and retention of personal information. Risks related to the technology itself, as well as risks associated with the use of a BYOD arrangement (i.e. people-related risks) should be addressed. In light of the magnitude of these risks, employers should make an assessment as to whether a BYOD program is appropriate.
  3. Develop, communicate, implement and enforce a BYOD policy: The Guidelines make clear that generic mobile device and/or security policies are not sufficient to address the unique risks associated with BYOD arrangements and, as such, a specific BYOD policy should be used. All appropriate departments within an employer's organization should be consulted (including, for example, information technology, information management, finance, human resources and/or the legal department) when developing policies. Policies must also be easy to understand and communicated to all employees who participate in the BYOD program. We note that the Guidelines provide a useful list of issues and restrictions that should be dealt with in any BYOD policy.
  4. Test the BYOD program (before rolling it out): Testing a BYOD program out on a small group of people is advisable, as it will enable allow the employer to further assess and address the risks associated with the program within the employer's organization.
  5. Develop training materials & programs: Training should be provided to IT professionals who will be responsible for implementing and administering the BYOD program, as well as users who will participate in the program. The Guidelines contain a detailed list of the topics training should address.
  6. Demonstrate accountability: Organizations should make clear to employees who have administrative rights with respect to the information contained on their BYOD devices and consider using software to manage the devices.
  7. Mitigate risks through "containerization": The Guidelines recommend using software that allows devices to be partitioned into two separate compartments (or "containers") – one related to personal use and the other related to business use. This ensures that business-related information is kept separate from the employee's personal information. In addition, the organization should have the ability to remotely erase the information in the corporate container in the event the employee leaves the organization or if the device is lost or stolen.
  8. Identify policies and procedures for storing and retaining personal information: Separate and apart from the BYOD policy, organizations should have policies in place which address how personal information may be stored and retained. If possible, personal information should not be stored or retained directly on a BYOD device. The use of software that enables users to view information on their devices without storing it could be utilized for this purpose.
  9. Implement encryption for devices and communications: The Guidelines discuss various encryption options and recommend that all remote connectivity be done through a secure connection, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
  10. Address patch and software vulnerabilities: It is imperative that the BYOD program establish who is responsible for installing and updating security patches (hint: it should not be the device owner).
  11. Manage apps and app configurations: As different apps raise different security risks, organizations should include apps in their risk assessments and include a list of approved apps in their BYOD policies. Processes should also be implemented to govern how apps are to be installed, updated and removed.
  12. Support effective authentication and authorization practices: For those of you who are not familiar with these terms, authentication is "the process of verifying an individual's identity prior to granting that individual access to a resource" and authorization is the process of allowing a user, whose identity has been authenticated, to access specific information. Ensuring appropriate authentication and authorization (of both devices and users) prior to granting access to corporate resources and/or personal information is crucial to ensuring that the security of such resources and information is maintained.
  13. Address malware protection: Network security systems need to be monitored, tested and updated on a regular basis in order to limit the risks associated with malware (such as viruses, worms and Trojan horses). In addition, users should be made aware of the risks associated with malware and how to avoid them.
  14. Formalize a BYOD incident management process: Clear processes should be adopted for managing and responding to security breaches. This should also be covered in BYOD training.

Our Views

The underlying message contained in the Guidelines appears to be "proceed with caution, if at all". Implementing a BYOD arrangement for employees should not be taken lightly and the Guidelines raise a number of issues which must be carefully considered prior to moving ahead with such an arrangement. As described in Guideline #1, above, before moving ahead with a BYOD arrangement, employers should ensure they have a commitment from senior management to dedicate the necessary time and resources to properly roll it out. For your information, this document may be helpful for explaining the risks associated with BYOD arrangements and mitigation strategies within your organization.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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