Canadians “are not fully aware of how much (computerized) information is on file about them.”
So lawyer Richard Potter warned against the invasion of privacy now possible through the widespread use of computerized information systems. At a meeting held this month in Toronto, Potter told Canadian members of the U.S-based Computer Law Association that the computer has made it possible to sort through, trace, and combine vast amounts of information about individuals. Unlike other countries, Canada has done little to enact privacy-protection legislation.
Electronic surveillance is already part of many workplaces. Computers monitor the performance of airline clerks, phone operators, data entry clerks, supermarket cashiers and many production workers. “It would be ironic,” said Potter, “if a tool supposedly bringing with it the great advantage of freeing us from drudgery were to place us back in bondage.”
Cliff Pilkey, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, agreed with Potter’s criticism and stated that electronic surveillance of employees will become a matter of collective bargaining. According to Pilkey, Bell Canada electronically monitors operators for whom it has a quota system. However, Rick Martin, a Bell representative, denied that such quotas exist. He explained that each operator handles between 600 and 800 calls a day and that if an operator deviates dramatically from this number, the employee’s supervisor “would check it out.” (George Brett, Toronto Star, October 8, 1986)
It is clear that computers are here to stay, and that they can be used for very beneficial purposes. Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there are many ways in which computers can be abused, just one of which is the destruction of privacy. In order to safeguard a measure of freedom, limits must be imposed on the use of computers, also in the workplace.