This week in New Zealand, a woman was forced to give over her private Facebook data and bank statements by her ex-employers at Air New Zealand. Gina Kensington had taken the airline to court in an unfair dismissal claim. NZ’s Employment Relations Authority sided with Air New Zealand and allowed the data in evidence, which backed the airline’s accusation that Ms Kensington had misused her sick leave, which was grounds for her dismissal.
That employers are now legally able to access employee’s personal data in this manner sets an alarming precedent. The data was used to pinpoint Ms Kensington’s whereabouts and financial transactions during the time she was on sick leave to show that she was not in places she claimed to be, though Ms Kensington argued that the airline did not have access to this information at the time of her firing. It was however, allowed retroactively to be used in the airline’s defence.
While it is already well-known best practice to not use social media channels to badmouth your employer, even under a pseudonym, the assumption that an employer is effectively able to snoop on its employees on their time away from work is a different proposition. In Australia the Privacy Act has no provisions regarding workplace surveillance.
In an era of the NSA snooping worldwide on private citizen’s online communications, it’s not a stretch to say that privacy as we once knew it no longer exists on the Internet. Currently, the safest default assumption for users to make is that nothing is truly private or safe from the eyes of employers or law enforcement.
Google’s Eric Schmidt once famously remarked that, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” which now appears to extend to how you spend your time away from the office, not just in the case of illegal activity (which, while somewhat creepy in its assumption that everyone should now live in full transparency online, is arguably true; people shouldn’t commit illegal acts.)
So, to be safe: whatever you share online, assume that someone, somewhere will inevitably be able to access it, and so, think carefully about what you share in this newly public “private” sphere.