Saanich will comply with privacy watchdog’s spyware report, says top bureaucrat

Interim CAO Andy Laidlaw said he intends to implement outstanding recommendations in wake of privacy violations

Saanich interim CAO Andy Laidlaw.

Saanich’s top bureaucrat is promising to address recommendations made by B.C.’s privacy watchdog after the District installed and used illicit spyware.

Interim Chief Administrative Officer Andy Laidlaw said last Thursday he has already ruled out any future use of Spector 360, an employee monitoring software program that was installed on the computer of Mayor Richard Atwell and 12 other municipal computers last December.

“We’re not using it again. It’s not coming back,” said Laidlaw, who is serving as interim CAO.

B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham released a report on March 30 that made clear the Spector 360 program collected information in violation of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

With the support of council, Laidlaw said he intends to implement Denham’s recommendations which include an audit of the District’s compliance with the privacy act, updated privacy policies and the appointment of a privacy officer.

“The first thing we need to address is those recommendations and I believe council will be supportive of that as well,” Laidlaw said. “Some of this will be new for local governments. The bar’s been raised on the privacy issue.”

Laidlaw said the District’s focus on security came at the expense of privacy considerations, and that Denham’s report has clearly identified a weakness.

“I’m not complaining about the report. It was very complete. … I’m hopeful we can learn from this and go forward,” he said.

Denham’s report also stated District officials demonstrated poor comprehension of privacy law, that the decision to purchase the software was rushed by senior bureaucrats and that the software did not serve its purported purpose of increasing IT security.

“We do have a privacy program in place, but security was our first priority, and we need to look at that through a different lens so that privacy is incorporated into everything we do going forward,” Laidlaw said.

In an internal letter to staff dated April 1 and obtained by the News, Laidlaw reiterated the District’s commitment to implementing Denham’s recommendations, and said the first two – removal of Spector 360 and the destruction of all data collected through its use – have already been completed. Denham’s recommendation to implement a comprehensive privacy management program under a dedicated privacy officer “is already included in the Legislative Services Division work plan,” Laidlaw wrote.

When asked by the News if any employees would be fired or reprimanded for contravention of privacy law, Laidlaw said he cannot comment on personnel matters.

Laidlaw joined the District at the end of January on contract. He left for vacation on April 3 and will return to work on April 29. Carrie MacPhee, director of legislative services, will assume CAO responsibilities during Laidlaw’s absence.

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