08/30/2013 09:24 EDT | Updated 08/30/2013 09:25 EDT

Tracking Employees By GPS OK, B.C. Privacy Watchdog Says


VANCOUVER -- Two elevator companies in British Columbia can continue to use GPS technology to keep tabs on their employees after the province's information commissioner rejected workers' complaints that the practice was an unfair -- and illegal -- intrusion into their privacy.

However, one of the companies was ordered to temporarily stop using the technology until it provides its workers with better notice about what information is collected and how it is used.

Unionized workers at ThyssenKrupp Elevator Ltd. and Kone Inc. filed complaints over the use of GPS tracking. The workers at both companies are members of the same local of the International Union of Elevator Constructors.

ThyssenKrupp has been using devices installed on its vehicles to monitor its mechanics since early 2011, while Kone has issued GPS-enabled phones that record its mechanics' activity since 2010.

The workers argued such GPS tracking violates the province's privacy legislation and represented an "offence to the dignity'' of the companies' employees.

The companies, on the other hand, insisted it was reasonable to use the GPS data to more efficiently deploy its staff, ensure mechanics could be located in the event of an emergency, provide more accurate billing information to clients, and ensure workers were indeed where they said they were.

Privacy adjudicator Ross Alexander sided with the companies, concluding they were acting within the law.

"I am satisfied that use of the system is likely to be effective for Kone's stated purposes,'' Alexander wrote in one of two decisions issued this week.

"Kone mechanics are a mobile workforce who generally work alone in widely distributed geographic areas, so regular in-person supervision is not practical. ... Kone's use of the GPS information is not, in my view, an offence to dignity of employees that tips the scales against Kone.''

A separate decision regarding ThyssenKrupp's tracking practices reached similar conclusions.

Kone issues its employees cellphones, allowing them to indicate when they come on and off shift, and when they arrive and leave a work site. The system then transmits that data back to the employer.

ThyssenKrupp's system relies on devices that are installed on its vehicles. The devices record and transit location data, as well as information about the vehicle, such as its speed and instances of "harsh'' braking or "rapid acceleration.''

The workers also argued they weren't provided with sufficient notice about the technology and how it would be used.

While Alexander concluded Kone provided adequate notice to its employees, in the form of letters and slideshow presentations, he said ThyssenKrupp did not.

ThyssenKrupp relied on a broad privacy policy to justify its use of the system, known as Fleet Complete, and the company answered some, but not all, of the union's questions in writing, wrote Alexander.

"I am not satisfied that (ThyssenKrupp) has adequately notified the complainant of the uses of the Fleet Complete information or (ThyssenKrupp's) purpose for collection and use,'' Alexander wrote.

Alexander ordered ThyssenKrupp to stop using its GPS system by Oct. 10, and not resume until it proves it has provided adequate notice to its workers.

While Alexander concluded Kone's notice to its workers satisfied the requirements in the province's privacy legislation, he still recommended the company create a detailed policy that outlines how workers' phones will be used to track GPS data.

Neither ThyssenKrupp, Kone, nor the union could be reached for comment.

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