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Babcock resignation sparks discussion about cell phone privacy rights

When assessing Mike Babcock’s brief tenure as Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach, the team’s president had this to say.

“Sometimes you make a mistake,” said John Davidson.

Babcock is out after asking to see Blue Jackets player’s phones to examine pictures.

According to former Philadelphia Flyers Captain Dave Poulin, how Babcock used his authority to interact with players may have put the hockey coach in hot water.

“I have coached at the NCAA and led team building exercises almost 30 years ago,” said Poulin. “What was considered team building then, would not be considered team building today.”

Babcock’s behaviour strays into the issue of privacy rights and expectations for laptops, cell phones, and computers.

“The expectation of privacy that a person has, is really going to depend on the circumstances,” said lawyer David Fraser, who added, if the device is owned by the employer, the law in Canada does not eliminate the expectation to privacy. “Particularly if the employer permits personal use of that device.”

However, if an employer has documented suspicions about inappropriate use of a phone or laptop?

“How can we do this in the least intrusive way possible,” said Fraser.

The law, when it comes to privacy in Canada, is evolving, and it differs in different parts of the country.

“Employees may ask, why are you looking through my desk and why are you looking at my phone,” said lawyer Mark Tector. “It becomes a balance.”

What if a phone is not owned by the employer, but it is sometimes used for work related purposes?

“An employee’s right to privacy is not unlimited,” said Tector.

While the privacy rules surrounding work phones and laptops are still evolving, there are a simple work-around strategies.

“Employees, if they are smart, frankly, would keep their personal emails separate,” said human resource specialist Gerald Walsh. “Don’t use your company email as your main email. If you keep other personal information on your computer, bank accounts and personal emails, etc.”

Walsh advises people to buy a secondary device for those purposes.

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