Saanich spyware could be unjust, says privacy commissioner

Saanich staff say Mayor Richard Atwell was notified through a standard form that monitoring software would be on his computer

Monitoring software in the District of Saanich could be unjustified, said a statement from the B.C. Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner.

On Wednesday evening the Director of Corporate Services, Laura Ciarnello, released a statement on behalf of the staff who handle software at the District of Saanich’s municipal hall. It responded to Mayor Richard Atwell’s suggestion that his and other municipal computers were being monitored on a centralized server known as ‘Langley.’

While the Saanich municipal statement didn’t go into details over exactly what data or activity is monitored (Atwell said Spector 360 can capture key strokes, including passwords, and also take screen shots every during activity), it did say the mayor had received a form which notified him of the software.

“The Mayor was given this form at the time his computer was installed on Dec. 2. although no signed form has been returned by the Mayor, computer access was granted to facilitate his role in the organization.”

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham also released a statement this week, this time in regards to employee monitoring software. It suggested it is highly unlikely that Saanich can justify the use of covert monitoring software such as Spector 360, if in fact it’s being used.

“There are two types of system monitoring of employees: overt and covert. Overt monitoring is done with the knowledge of the employee…,” said Denham, adding that covert is done without an employee’s knowledge.

She goes on to say that covert monitoring could include tracking of Internet use, logging keystrokes, or taking screen captures at set intervals, just as Atwell had described at his Monday press release.

“The threshold for covert monitoring is very high, and may be part of a specific workplace investigation once all other less intrusive measures have been exhausted…. That being said, there have been no cases brought before this Office where covert monitoring was found to be justified under privacy law.

Saanich’s statement said the only way to review data captured by Spector 360 is by following a secure administrative process triggered in response to an incident, said the statement. Any review has to be authorized by either the (vacant) Chief Administrative Officer or Director of Corporate Services (Laura Ciarniello). To this date that process has not been activated.

It is not yet known to what extend the monitoring software is used at municipal hall.

– This story has been updated from it’s original posting.