Municipality’s software violates employees’ privacy rights: B.C. commissioner

British Columbia’s privacy commissioner says a Vancouver Island municipality violated privacy rights by secretly installing computer spyware the mayor alleged was used to bug his computer.

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s privacy commissioner says a Vancouver Island municipality violated privacy rights by secretly installing computer spyware the mayor alleged was used to bug his computer.

Elizabeth Denham said Saanich failed to tell employees and elected officials about the amount of personal information it was collecting.

“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,” Denham said in a report released Monday.

She said public agencies, including municipal governments, have been subject to comprehensive privacy laws for more than 20 years.

However, Saanich installed monitoring software, enabling automated screen shots, keystroke logging and other monitoring tools “without considering how these actions would measure up to their privacy obligations under the law.”

Denham said her investigation revealed that Saanich decided to focus efforts on information technology security last year due to perceptions that newly elected Mayor Richard Atwell was experienced in IT and would be able to criticize weaknesses.

She launched an investigation after Atwell alleged his city hall computer was bugged and that police pulled him over four times on groundless suspicions of drunk driving.

Denham said Saanich should destroy all data connected to the use of a spyware program called Spector 360, which Atwell said was installed on his computer without his knowledge.

She recommended the municipality disable key features of the monitoring system and appoint a privacy officer.

The privacy issues arose after a domestic incident involving the mayor became public.

Atwell said he would comment on the report later Monday.

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