Editorial: Atwell alone got it right on privacy concerns

Naysayers of Atwell will be thinking hard about their next steps after defending municipal staff decisions

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell was walking with a bit of swagger when he addressed media on Monday in the wake of a damning report from B.C.’s privacy commissioner on Saanich’s use of employee monitoring software.

Atwell raised concerns about the Spector 360 spyware program in January, but thanks in large part to its bundling with a series of other revelations – lying about an extra-marital affair, possible police harassment, leaked information about a 911 call – our Mayor was framed in national media as paranoid, a blunder-prone rookie politician.

It’s amazing how a few months can change perceptions so drastically.

B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commisioner Elizabeth Denham left no wiggle room when she lambasted District officials for showing “a deep lack of understanding” about the province’s privacy laws. Denham told the News she was dismayed by an absence of oversight by Saanich bureaucrats to ensure that privacy rights were being appropriately respected with new security measures.

Spector 360, rather than increasing Saanich’s IT security, actually made it less secure by creating a “honeypot” of passwords and other information for external attackers, Denham said.

Some Saanich councillors come out of this mess looking rather sheepish in the wake of Denham’s report. They stood confidently by their staff, refusing to consider that Atwell might actually know what he’s talking about as their mayor and a former software engineer.

Those naysayers will be thinking deeply about their next public steps, but what’s needed now is a willingness to collectively deal with the modernization of the District’s privacy laws.

To expand on a comment from Elizabeth Denham: Welcome to the 21st century.