Television station improperly recorded employee telephone conversation

PIPEDA Case Summary #2007-387

[Principle 4.3 of Schedule 1]

Lessons Learned

  • Companies planning to install telephone recording equipment on employees’ telephones are required to inform their employees of these plans and the reasons for them before putting the equipment into use.
  • Companies are obligated to inform customers that their telephone calls may be recorded and why.
  • Companies must implement policies for telephone taping that are in line with this Office’s “Best Practices for the Recording of Customer Telephone Calls.”

A union that represents certain employees of a television station in a small community alleged that the manager had improperly taped telephone conversations at the workstation of a former employee who worked as a customer service representative (CSR).  The investigation confirmed the allegation.  The Assistant Commissioner recommended that, since the station had intended to install telephone recording equipment on all CSR workstations for quality monitoring purposes, to have a record of conversations in case of a dispute, and to deter abusive customers, the station had to inform its employees of its plans to install such equipment before using it and why, and to inform customers that their calls may be recorded and why.  The station, however, ultimately decided not to tape telephone calls, and the complaint was considered well-founded and resolved.

The following is an overview of the investigation and the Assistant Commissioner’s deliberations.

Summary of Investigation

The individuals involved in the complaint are the general manager, the office manager (and privacy officer) and the CSRs.  During an office renovation, the CSR in question noticed a box hanging off her desk and attached to some wires, one of which was the telephone cable.  The box had been hidden between a divider and the back of her desk.  On the box was a slogan about recording conversations using a personal computer.

The CSR showed the box to some of her fellow CSRs and asked the general manager about the device.  He explained that he had installed it on a test basis and that it was not working properly.  According to the CSR in question, he did not say whether it was recording conversations, despite being asked.  She was told that the device would be used for quality control; to have a record of conversations in case of a dispute with a customer; and to deter abusive customers. 

According to the general manager, the recording device at the workstation of the CSR in question did not work because it was incompatible with the telephones used by the CSRs.  He did not tell the CSR that it was there because it was not recording.  The station’s telephone system at the time was not capable of having a prerecorded message indicating that calls are taped.  Once a new phone system was in place, the general manager intended to install the devices on the CSRs’ phones.

The recording device consists of software and a box that is attached via a cable connection to the telephone and the computer.  The device allows the user to record telephone conversations to the computer.  The software has several options that can be configured by the user, for example, to either manually or automatically record all calls, to save all calls, or to save only calls longer than a predetermined time.  The user also determines where on the computer and for how long the calls will be stored.  A default setting in the software causes a splash screen to appear when the computer is first turned on. 

We observed the splash screen on the office manager’s computer, but not on the CSR’s computer.  Both the office manager’s and the CSR’s computers had the recorder shortcut icon on the desktop.  When the device is recording, a red circle flashes on the bottom right-hand corner of the taskbar.  The CSR in question did not recall seeing the flashing red circle, the shortcut icon, or the splash screen.

There was contradictory evidence regarding a supposed demonstration of the device.  The CSRs had claimed that one had taken place and that they had seen a call log of recorded calls on the computer of the CSR in question.  They did not print out the log, claiming that this was not possible because the computer did not have Word.  Their description of the log did not quite match the sample log that we viewed.  This Office was unable to determine what the source of this discrepancy might be. 

The CSRs did not save any of the calls shown on the log.  However, one of the CSRs told us that, a couple of months after the recording box was discovered, she copied two files from the computer of the CSR in question, which she believed to be taped telephone conversations, and sent them to the Office.  We checked the computer of the CSR in question and there were no files saved.  The employee who provided this Office with the files indicated that not long after she transferred the files, they disappeared from the computer of the CSR in question.

We played the files.  Each contained a telephone conversation: one involving a male voice repeating “testing 1 2 3 4 testing 1 2 3 4” over the standard recorded greeting used by the station; the second involved a conversation between a man and a woman.

We spoke to the CSR in question and played the taped recordings for her.  She immediately identified the voices in the second recording as hers and her husband’s.  With no hesitation, she identified the male voice on first recording as that of the general manager’s.  The office manager also identified the general manager’s voice and the CSR’s on the recordings.  She questioned why the existence of the recordings was not revealed earlier. 

The station indicated that the recorder is set to either record all conversations, or conversations longer than a length selected by the user.  The length of time that recordings are saved is also selected by the user.  Calls can be deleted after a selected period of time, after using a particular amount of disk space, or never.  The delete setting can be overridden by manually marking specific recordings as urgent.  The office manager noted that the CSRs stated that during the demonstration of the device, they saw a log of calls saved on specific dates, which indicated that calls were being deleted after one day.  For the two recordings to have been saved, someone must have flagged the conversations to prevent them from being automatically deleted.  Thus, the office manager contended, this individual would have known that the recorder was working much earlier and yet did not step forward.

She stated that calls can be easily created, backdated and renamed on any computer.  She noted that the General Manager was not working at 1:03 a.m., as one recording indicates.  The recordings in question do not show the telephone number.  A genuine recording shows the phone number, user identification, length of call and date of call.  She speculated that the files sent to this Office could have been changed, including the date, time and computer name.  We noted, however, that when we changed the file name of one of the recordings, the old date and time displayed by the software remained unchanged.


Issued December 4, 2006

Application: Principle 4.3 states that the knowledge and consent of the individual are required for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, except where inappropriate.

In making her determinations, the Assistant Commissioner deliberated as follows:

  • There was no dispute that the station’s general manager installed telephone recording equipment at the workstation of one of the CSRs.  The investigation established that she was not aware that he had done so.  The general manager stated that he did not tell her because the equipment did not work. 
  • However, we were later provided with a recording of a conversation between the CSR and her husband, which took place at her workstation.  Thus, based on this evidence, the personal information of the CSR and her husband was collected without knowledge or consent, contrary to Principle 4.3. 
  • The station indicated that it intended to install telephone recording equipment on all of its CSRs’ telephones for quality monitoring purposes, to have a record of conversations in case of a dispute, and to deter abusive customers. 
  • Before implementing such a measure, however, the Assistant Commissioner was of the view that the station needed to inform its employees of its plans to install such equipment before using it and why, and to inform customers that their calls may be recorded and why. 
  • Based on the investigation, it was clear to her that the station did not take any such steps before installing the recording at the CRS’s workstation, and, as a result, a complaint was brought to this Office.
  • Therefore, the Assistant Commissioner recommended that the station:
  • However, after receiving the Assistant Commissioner’s recommendations, the station confirmed that it had decided not to tape telephone calls.  The station indicated that it would instead be implementing a policy regarding telephone use. 

The Assistant Commissioner concluded that the complaint was well-founded and resolved.

See also

#180 Bank uses tape-recording of customer’s call for unidentified training purpose; connects another customer to the recording

#215 Bank records customer call without consent

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