Canadian court finds privacy protections apply to personal data stored on employer-owned computer

As reported by the Globe and Mail earlier this week, a Canadian provincial court ruled that personal information stored by employees on employer-provided computers is protected by Canadian privacy laws, and the information cannot be given to law enforcement without first satisfying government search prerequisites such as obtaining a warrant. The Ontario Court of Appeal found that while an employer (in this case, a school) is permitted to inspect the contents of computers it owns – including personal data employees may have stored there – the employer cannot give access to law enforcement without a warrant. This legal interpretation of privacy regulations and protection from unreasonable search and seizure seems consistent with the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which generally constrains the ability of government authorities to conduct searches but does not limit non-government employers from performing similar activities. However, the Ontario ruling answers the question of employee expectations of privacy regarding personal data more broadly than some similar judicial decisions in the United States, which tend to afford employees such protection in very narrowly defined circumstances.