Privacy and Our New Virtual World

Written By: Maura McDowell, Articling Student

Given the “new normal”, more businesses and organizations are moving their operations online. We are getting more comfortable using Zoom instead of meeting in conference rooms. But posting screen captures or recordings from online webinars, meetings, or round tables? Not normal. Going online does not mean that employees no longer have an expectation of privacy or that employers are exempt from privacy requirements.

I. Legal Considerations

Various acts govern the treatment of personal information by businesses and organizations. Personal information can include an individual’s picture, name, or email address – all identifiers that can appear on video conferencing services.

In Alberta, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act applies to cross-border commercial activities or federally-regulated industries and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act applies to public bodies.

The Personal Information Protection Act applies to the private sector and governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information including employees’ personal information. When collecting, using, and disclosing personal information, an organization must:

  • Only do so for a reasonable purpose;
  • Generally, obtain consent, subject to the exceptions in the Act; and
  • Give employees the reason for which their information was collected, used, or disclosed.

Beyond the privacy law requirements, organizations should also consider their professional and ethical obligations in determining the best approach to virtual sessions in our new world.

II. Best Practices

If you are hosting a webinar or an internal round table on a platform like Zoom, and you want to record the discussion or take screen shots of the participants, the best practice is to ask attendees for permission (and hopefully getting that permission in writing).

To protect your business and your employees, the best practice would be to implement and enforce a “Virtual Meeting Policy” and/or “Webinar Policy” for all attendees to sign prior to any online gathering. If you do not want any attendees recording the screen, then have all participants sign an agreement that they will not do so. If you want to give attendees permission to take recordings, then consent from all participants should be obtained beforehand. For employers, any disciplinary consequences that will flow from a breach of the relevant policy need to be clearly communicated to your employees.

Meeting online may now be normal, but no one should have their attendance at a session shared if that goes against their will. Therefore, your policy should include ways for employees to protect their identity, should screen recordings or captures be permitted or necessary. This could take the form of turning off cameras or encouraging attendees to change their user name to make sure they are not identifiable, even with their cameras off.

Regardless of how you approach remote meetings and webinars, you need to ensure that you have permission from each attendee before sharing any potentially identifiable information.  Ensuring that you have obtained express consent will help avoid consequences for you and your employees.

Disclaimer: This article is to be used for educational and non-commercial purposes only. Parlee McLaws LLP does not intend for this article to be a source of legal advice. Please seek the advice of a lawyer before choosing to act on any of the information contained in this article.