Social Insurance Numbers

Your Social Insurance Number (SIN) is the most common unique personal identifier in Canada. [See ACLRC Privacy Handbook at p 121]. It is imperative that you be careful in giving out the number and be certain whomever is requesting it is lawfully authorized to do so. Examples of when you will be required to provide your SIN are to:

  • The government for social programs and tax purposes

  • Old Age Security, Employment Insurance (EI) and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions or claims 

  • The federal government for Income Tax identification

  • One’s employer for government tax and benefit programs

  • Banks and other financial institutions if you receive revenue from products or services (e.g., line of credit)

  • Canada Student Loans

Employers and financial institutions are not allowed to share your SIN with anyone who is not entitled to it under law. When an organization or a business not listed asks for your SIN, you are not required to give it but they are entitled to refuse you service if you choose not to provide your SIN. However, it is important to be protective of your SIN to prevent unauthorized people from acquiring it and be inquisitive when asked for it.

Credit Bureaus

Another source of important personal information is your credit file. When you first borrow money or apply for a credit card, a credit file is created. It contains information about your history with credit grantors, such as how often you pay your bills, if you ever filed for bankruptcy and how much you borrow. When you make subsequent applications for a loan or apply for a job, the bank or employer will often check this rating to determine whether they want to hire you or provide a loan. You are entitled to look at what is in your credit file to ensure it is accurate.

Financial institutions

Most of our day to day activities involve a financial aspect and our finances are inherently connected to some bank or other financial institution. In order to do business at a bank, you must provide personal information to them. It is then important for the bank to adequately protect your personal information in their records. Their obligation to do so is centered on the 10 principles from PIPEDA outlined previously. 

Direct Marketing

It is common practice for businesses today to contact consumers directly at their homes. They acquire your information through your patronage with the company or more commonly through purchasing lists of consumers’ names from other companies who collect them. The following are steps that you can take to minimize the amount of direct mail you receive:

  • Mark on any donation or warranty card “please do not sell my name or address”

  • Avoid filling out these cards when not necessary

  • Ask your credit card company not to sell your name

  • Avoid contests offering free products or vacations because they usually sell the consumer information they are receiving

  • Write to the Canadian Marketing Association and request to be taken off lists 

(Do Not Contact service: National Do Not Call List

Media and Privacy

It is a common occurrence for the media to publish personal information in a news story. There are no laws preventing the media from publishing accurate personal information but there are for publishing inaccurate information. An example of this is defamation—if what is said about you is untrue and harms your reputation. However, if the information is true it will be difficult to prevent the media from publishing the information.

Information gathering by employers

Perhaps the most important situation is the information an employer requests of you when interviewing you or requests as a condition for employment. Typical information required and seemingly acceptable is name, address and work experience. Often firms might request further information relating to your background, such as a criminal record check. A criminal record check can only be done if consented to by the employee or job applicant. However, if a criminal check is required by the employer for the job (they may required pursuant to the Alberta Protection of Persons in Care Act), there may be no choice on your part if you want the job.