Sunday, May 19, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Proposed GPS Policy

There's been quite a bit of media coverage over the last couple of weeks about a policy brought forward by administration to set guidelines for the use of various technical devices that are available in city-owned property - cell phones, radios, vehicles, water meter reading devices, for example.  Mostly, it speaks to the use of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) that are in such things, and how the city could use this GPS availability to track the location of city employees.

I voted against this proposal for a number of reasons.  While the main reason for the policy was suggested to be for improved safety, this seems to be a bit of a stretch.  Employees rarely work alone, and never in remote locations.  As well, I think that it's a fair assumption that work schedules and locations are known by supervisors, managers and co-workers - if there's a problem, finding where the worker is will be the least of the problem.  And a GPS won't be able to tell when there's a problem.

I was also concerned that the staff proposing this couldn't tell us of another municipality where this is in place, suggesting that either it isn't a good idea, or that full research on the idea hadn't taken place.  I'm a firm believer in gathering all the information that's out there before submitting a proposal, and that groundwork hasn't yet been done.  The concerns raised by the privacy commissioner the day after our meeting also seem to indicate that the proposal had missed a fairly important piece of research.

Although the proposal focused on the need for safety, many of the comments and questions since have focused on the potential of using this technology for monitoring where outside workers are, and when, and for checking on such things as length of coffee breaks.  I totally disagree with this.  We pay supervisors and managers good salaries, part of which are for doing the actual work of supervising and managing employees, and I believe that far better results occur from face-to-face discussions of expectations and issues of non-performance, than from electronic surveillance.

There's also an inequity here of how we treat inside and outside workers.  As far as I know, we do not monitor inside employees, who may well spend time talking to co-workers, on inappropriate web-sites, or updating their Facebook pages when they should be working.  Perhaps we're less concerned because the public is unlikely to see these behaviours and complain, but if we're going to set up a system for monitoring, we'd better be sure that we're treating all employees the same.

The proposed policy has been sent back for further development and consultation, particularly with the unions.  Hopefully, before it shows up before us again, the research has been done to answer everyone's questions.

" There will come a time when it isn't 'They're spying on me through my phone' any more.  Eventually it will be 'My phone is spying on me'." - Philip K. Dick

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