Your ability to control your personal information is crucial to your right to privacy. See: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada “A Guide for Individuals”. The previous section on government powers relates to the public sector, but often the risk of identity theft will come from the private sector. Whether it be a credit card company, a bank or your employer, protection of your personal information will often come down to the steps you take yourself to protect your identity.

An important question to ask is: When are you required to disclose information about yourself and to whom?  This question can be answered by looking at the legislation that applies information protection to the private sector, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) [OPC Pipeda]. Part 1 of PIPEDA outlines how federally regulated organizations (e.g., banks) may collect, use or disclose personal information about you. It confers rights on individuals in determining whether information must be supplied and requirements for organizations in acquiring personal information. 

Individual’s Rights

The following are the rights granted to individuals by PIPEDA: [OPC PIPEDA]:

  • To know why an organization collects, uses or discloses your personal information;

  • To expect an organization to collect, use or disclose your personal information reasonably and appropriately, and not use the information for any purpose other than that to which you have consented;

  • To know who in the organization is responsible for protecting your personal information;

  • To expect an organization to protect your personal information by taking appropriate security measures;

  • To expect the personal information an organization holds about you to be accurate, complete and up-to-date;

  • To obtain access to your personal information and ask for corrections if necessary; and

  • To complain about how an organization handles your personal information if you feel your privacy rights have not been respected.

Organizational Requirements

The following are requirements imposed on organizations: [OPC PIPEDA]:

  • To obtain your consent when they collect, use or disclose your personal information;

  • To supply you with a product or a service even if you refuse consent for the collection, use or disclosure of your personal information unless that information is essential to the transaction;

  • To collect information by fair and lawful means; and

  • To have personal information policies that are clear, understandable and readily available. 

PIPEDA outlines 10 principles that organizations must follow in order to effectively manage personal information in order to protect the privacy of people with whom they deal. The following are the 10 principles (see: Privacy Sense):

  • Accountability – each organization must appoint someone to be responsible for complying with the principles

  • Identifying purpose -the purposes for which personal information is collected shall be identified by the organization at or before the time the information is collected.

  • Consent - the knowledge and consent of the individual are required for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, except where inappropriate (are exceptions)

  • Limiting collection - The collection of personal information shall be limited to that which is necessary for the purposes identified by the organization. Information shall be collected by fair and lawful means.

  • Limiting use, disclosure and retention - Personal information shall not be used or disclosed for purposes other than those for which it was collected, except with the consent of the individual or as required by law. Personal information shall be retained only as long as necessary for the fulfilment of those purposes.

  • Accuracy - Personal information shall be as accurate, complete, and up-to-date as is necessary for the purposes for which it is to be used.

  • Safeguards - Personal information shall be protected by security safeguards appropriate to the sensitivity of the information.

  • Openness - An organization shall make readily available to individuals, specific information about its policies and practices relating to the management of personal information.

  • Individual access - Upon request, an individual shall be informed of the existence, use, and disclosure of his or her personal information and shall be given access to that information. An individual shall be able to challenge the accuracy and completeness of the information and have it amended as appropriate (limited and specific exceptions).

  • Challenging compliance - An individual shall be able to address a challenge concerning compliance with the above principles to the designated individual or individuals accountable for the organization's compliance.

There are exceptions to the consent requirements. If the information collected clearly benefits you and your consent cannot be obtained in a timely manner, then no consent need be acquired. Also, if the information is needed by law enforcement and consent would compromise the accuracy of the information, consent isn't required. There are also a few organizations or purposes that are exempt from PIPEDA. Any group that collects, uses or discloses personal information exclusively for journalistic, artistic or literary purposes does not fall under PIPEDA. Also, an individual’s collection, use or disclosure of personal information for personal purposes (e.g., genealogical research for family purposes) is not covered by PIPEDA.

Provincially, the Alberta Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) is recognized as substantially similar to PIPEDA. This legislation applies to provincially regulated businesses.