If your job involves using a computer, you’ve mostly likely slacked off at one point and used it for something that wasn’t work-related. Whether it was searching for an answer to a personal question on Google, updating a Facebook status or even just doing some general internet procrastinating, people have a lot of personal information stored on their work computers. Luckily, the Supreme Court of Canada has realized this and ruled that employees can expect a certain amount of privacy in this area.
The court came to the conclusion that a person’s browsing history can reveal quite a bit about their personal preferences and information — something no employer should have a right to know. This ruling protects employees from an unreasonable search and seizure of their personal information stored on a computer by an employer. Not only will this protect an employee’s reasonable right to privacy, but this ruling will also help set a precedent for future court cases that deal with similar subject matter.
It’s refreshing to see the Supreme Court understands the internet and how it’s deeply intertwined with people’s lives. Scott Hutchison, a privacy expert at the law firm Stockwoods LLP agrees, explaining that “The reality is that (people) use their work computers for personal matters in the same way they might make a personal call on a work telephone.” With that in mind, it’s not at all unreasonable to suggest that employees have right to the protection of their online personal lives.
One of the best things about the Supreme Court ruling is that it makes exceptions for those who engage in illegal online activity. For example, if child pornography was involved, an employer who somehow came across the pornography would still have the right to seize that person’s information and inform the police. Although a person’s privacy should be held in extremely high regard, it cannot trump another individual’s right to safety and freedom from harm.
An important piece of information worth paying attention to is the wording of the Supreme Court’s ruling. When speaking of a Canadian employee’s right to online privacy at work Justice Morris Fish stated the ruling was applicable where personal use of a work computer was expected. This exception still puts some of the power back into the hands of the employer when it comes to online discipline. If the boss specifically states there is to be no non-work related use of a company computer, they should have the right to make that rule. If you’re on the clock as an employee, it’s not at all unreasonable for an employer to want you to focus on work for the duration of your shift. If a company has a strict no personal computer use policy, and the employer is fully aware of that when they’re hired, there should be no excuses. This provision no doubt sets an important precedent by giving balance to the employee-employer relationship in regards to online privacy.
When it comes to the internet, trying to define where someone’s personal life begins and ends is nearly impossible. Personal online activities — provided they’re legal — should be kept just as private as real life personal activities.
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