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Stop Snooping: Alberta Privacy Commissioner Finds Employee Snooping Results In Real Risk Of Harm – Privacy Protection



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In a recent breach notification decision, the
Alberta Privacy Commissioner found that a real risk of significant
harm arose after four employees were found to have accessed account
information of other employees and credit union members without an
authorized purpose. This decision highlights the importance of
clear privacy policies and practices for employees and that the
risk of privacy breaches is not just from external bad actors
– it can arise inside of an organization.

Background

The organization discovered this breach through their internal
audit system shortly after the unauthorized accesses occurred. It
involved sensitive personal information of employees and credit
union members, including their social insurance number, banking
information, and other sensitive employment information.

Under the Alberta Personal Information Protection
Act
,1 organizations are required to notify
individuals if unauthorized access of their personal information
raised a real risk of significant harm. This test was met due to
the sensitive nature of the information accessed and the deliberate
and personal nature of the breach, together with the non-trivial
consequences or effects of the incident. The decision also noted
how, because the perpetrators and affected individuals know each
other, there was an increased likelihood that this incident would
damage personal and professional relationships.

Organization’s Response

As a result of this breach, the organization provided the
necessary access notification2, offered the affected
individuals 24 months of credit monitoring, and took several steps
to prevent future breaches including:

  • Disciplining the employees who conducted the accesses;

  • Developing a “spot check” program to monitor employee
    accesses; and

  • Reminding all employees of the audit tool, the importance of
    maintaining privacy, and the consequences of a failure to do
    so.

These steps were aided by the fact that the organization had
these processes and policies in place before the breach.

Takeaways for Businesses

This decision serves as a reminder for all businesses to have
clear policies and practices in place – such as an employee
privacy policy, an internal audit process, and proper safeguards on
employee personal information. These not only reduce the risk of a
breach, but also allow for a quick and effective response if a
breach occurs, in order to reduce the risk of harm to
individuals.

For more information on Alberta’s regulation of privacy
breaches, please see our recent bulletin, Lessons learned from Alberta’s Office of the
Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) 11-Year Report
.

Footnotes

1. Personal Information Protection Act, SA 2003,
c P-6.5, s 37.1.

2. Required under section 19.1 of the Personal
Information Protection Act Regulation
.

The foregoing provides only an overview and does not
constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any
decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal
advice should be obtained.

© McMillan LLP 2021

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