Union challenges government plans for employee fingerprinting, invasive background checks

April 22, 2015 - 

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) is seeking an injunction from the Federal Court of Canada to immediately halt the Canadian government’s new security screening system.

In March, Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat, which is responsible for the federal civil service, confirmed that the government’s new standard on security screening for all employees includes fingerprinting employees, along with mandatory credit checks and sweeping Internet profiling.

PIPSC, the government union that represents 35,000 scientists and other professionals, is upset about the amount of data the government will be collecting for the “basic reliability status” needed for any public service job. The union argued in the injunction that data collection under the new security standard is “unreasonable, unnecessary and unjustified”.

For this reason, the union filed the injunction is to stop public servants from the “irreparable harm” of turning over all kinds of personal and sensitive information. As of 2014, it was estimated that there were 257,138 federal civil servants in Canada.

PIPSC’s injunction has been filed to protect employees in the interim, as the union has launched more comprehensive legal action against the Harper Government, arguing that the new security screening process is unconstitutional, violates the Privacy Act, and contravenes key principles of administrative law.

BiometricUpdate.com previously reported that a number of unions, including PIPSC, have filed grievances against the government on behalf of a number of employees that allege that the new security procedures will result in an “impermissible breach of privacy” in violation of collective agreement clauses that oblige the employer to respect Canada’s Privacy Act.

The grievances also allege that the new rules breech section seven of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of the person. PIPSC is also grieving the failure of the government to consult the union prior to introducing and implementing the new screening standard.

According to Isabelle Roy, PIPSC general counsel, in an article in the Ottawa Citizen, old security measures requiring fingerprinting, credit and criminal checks depended on the nature of the work. But with the new security screening standard, these checks are now a “blanket requirements for everyone”.

Along with a criminal check, the new basic reliability status also requires a “law enforcement inquiry.” This entails gathering data from police databases, including convictions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and any records of peace bonds, restraining orders and mental health incidents, whether they resulted in charges or not.

Basic reliability status will also require an Internet profile of current and prospective civil servants to gain insight into their “ideology, associations and character”.

“Why does the government want to know what’s on the Twitter account or Facebook page of someone who needs a basic reliability check to be a receptionist or work at an IT help desk?” asked Roy in the Ottawa Citizen article.

The union fears that such information will be used at the discretion of managers to determine whether a “best qualified” employee is the “best fit” for a job. Recent rule changes allow managers to favor the “best fit” over the “best qualified”.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.