According to two recent Federal Court decisions, privacy – though protected by the law - is not worth that much money when it comes to actual damage awards.

While most privacy complaints are resolved through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, some cases are litigated in court with plaintiffs hoping to receive monetary compensation for privacy violations. Two such cases are Randall v. Nubodys Fitness Centres, 2010 FC 681 (CanLII) and Stevens v. SNF Maritime Metal Inc. 2010 FC 1137 (CanLII).

Randall involved a situation where an employee’s attendance at a fitness club was regularly reported back to his company which paid half of his monthly fees as part of his benefits package. While the Federal Court agreed that this constituted a violation of his privacy rights, the Court did not award any damages stating that only egregious breaches such as video-taping and phone-line tapping warranted compensation. In Stevens, the Federal Court reached the same conclusion and found that while the applicant’s rights were violated when his company accessed his personal account information, the wrong was not malicious and therefore did not warrant an award of damages. The Court noted that the company then voluntarily put into place a confidentiality policy which would help prevent these situations in the future.

From these decisions, the Federal Court has shown that while privacy violations are readily recognized and condemned, they will rarely result in any monetary compensation. While Michael Geist states that this may have the unintended consequence of diminishing respect for privacy compliance due to a focus on the bottom line, it is important that companies recognize the other costs involved in breaching privacy - such as a damaged reputation and the cost of litigation. It is always advisable for companies to have and follow privacy policies which will protect both themselves and their employees.