Government has right to monitor use of its e-mail systems

A Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) employee was annoyed that each time he logged on to his CBSA computer system, he had to agree to an online statement or else be denied access to the system. The statement in question indicates that the CBSA may monitor the use of its systems. The complainant maintained that the use of e-mail should receive the same privacy considerations as use of the telephone. In his view, monitoring his e-mails violated his privacy rights.

Our Office ascertained that the CBSA’s monitoring policy is drawn from two Treasury Board policies: the Government Security Policy and the Policy on the Use of Electronic Networks. These policies clearly state that government departments must conduct active monitoring and internal audits of their security programs. As such, electronic networks may be monitored for operational reasons and for assessing compliance with the policies. While normal routine analysis does not involve reading content, if due to routine analysis or a complaint the institution reasonably suspects that an individual is misusing the network, the matter is referred for investigation and action that may involve special monitoring and/or reading the content of the e-mails. In this case, the CBSA confirmed that the complainant’s personal e-mails were never read.

The CBSA pointed out that e-mail is a corporate communications tool provided to employees for the purpose of conducting official government business. The department allows limited personal use when it complies with CBSA’s policies and legislation, and when employee performance is not adversely affected.

Our Office concluded that the CBSA displayed fairness and transparency by informing its employees of its monitoring practices through the online statement, and by making the electronic network policy guidelines readily available on its intranet. Employees  therefore have clear expectations of the level of privacy they can expect from the employer. Our Office determined that the complaint was not well‑founded.

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