Privacy

Read below for answers to frequently asked questions

What is my ‘personal information’?

“Personal information” is defined broadly at law as information about an identifiable individual.

More specifically, “personal information” can include information such as your:

  • Name, address, telephone number
  • Age, sex, marital status, family status
  • Health care history
  • Employment or financial history
  • ID numbers, place of birth, ethnic origin; and
  • Opinions, evaluations, or comments made about you.

The law recognizes the rights of individuals to control and keep their personal information private. However, the law also recognizes that in some circumstances it is reasonable for private and public organizations to gather, use, and sometimes share the personal information of individuals.  A common example of where you may be required to share your personal information is in the employment context.

For more information you may want to contact the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner (by email at generalinfo@oipc.ab.ca or by phone at 403-297-2728).

Legal Authorities

  • Privacy Act, RSC 1985, c P-21, s 3 (Definitions).
  • Personal Information Protection Act, SA 2003, c P-6.5, s 1(1)(k) (personal information), s 3 (Purpose).
  • Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, RSA 2000 c F-25, Definitions, s 1(n) ( personal information).

Reviewed 08/15


Do I have to agree to give up my personal information?

The answer depends on who is asking for your personal information.

Private Sector (non-government organization)

The private sector is composed of private individuals and organizations that are not owned or operated by the government. An example of a private organization is McDonald’s.

In general, you are entitled to privacy in the private sector. A private organization cannot legally gather, use, or share your personal information without your consent.

However, there are some exceptions to this. Some circumstances where an organization does not have to seek your consent to collect your personal information include:

  • The collection of your information is authorized by law;
  • The collection of your information is reasonable for investigative or legal purposes;
  • A reasonable person would consider the collection of your information to be in your interest, there is no time to get your consent, and you would most likely not withhold consent; and
  • The collection of your information is necessary to collect a debt owed to the organization.

Public Sector (government organization)

The public sector is composed of organizations that are owned and operated by the government. An example of a public organization is Alberta Health Services.

Organizations in the public sector have a generally broader authority to collect your personal information than those in the private sector. It is recognized at law that it may be necessary for a government organization to collect your personal information in order to provide you with their services.

Personal information may be collected by a public organization if:

  • The collection of your information is authorized by law;
  • The collection of your information is for law enforcement; or
  • The public body collecting your information can show that it is necessary for their operating program or activity.

A public body that collects your personal information is required to tell you:

  • The purpose for which the information is collected
  • The legal authority that allows the information to be collected; and
  • The contact information of an individual who may answers your questions about the information collected.

For more information you may want to contact the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner (by email at generalinfo@oipc.ab.ca or by phone at 403-297-2728).

Legal Authorities

  • Personal Information Protection Act, SA 2003, c P-6.5, s 7(1)(a) (Consent required), s 9 (Withdrawal or variation of consent), s 14 (Collection without consent).
  • Privacy Act, RSC 1985, c P-21, s 4 (Collection of personal information)
  • Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, RSA 2000, c F- 25, s 33 (Purpose of collection of information), s 34(2) (Manner of collection of information)

Reviewed 08/15

 


Can I be refused services or products if I refuse to give out my personal information?

Private Sector (non-government organization)

A private organization cannot refuse you their services or products if you refuse to give up unnecessary information. What is considered necessary or unnecessary information will depend on the particular transaction.

For example, a retail store may not refuse your purchase of an article of clothing if you do not want to give them your telephone number. This is because there is no rational connection between the purchase and your home number. However, if you want to return an article of clothing, you may be required to give your home phone number so you may be reached in case there is a problem with the refund transaction.

Public Sector (government organization)

Your personal information is often necessary for a government organization to provide you with its services or products. Therefore, it is legal for that organization to refuse you its services or products if it can show that your information is necessary for their operating program or activity.

For example, you are required to provide your SIN in order to apply for and collect Employment Insurance benefits. Your SIN is considered necessary for Service Canada to provide you with its services.

For more information you may want to contact the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner (by email at generalinfo@oipc.ab.ca or by phone at 403-297-2728).

Legal Authorities

  • Personal Information Protection Act, SA 2003, c P-6.5, s 7(2) (Consent required).
  • Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, RSA 2000, c F- 25, s 33 (Purpose of collection of information).

Reviewed 08/15

 


If I have shared my personal information can the organization or agency I shared it with give it to others?

Private Sector (non-government organization)

A private organization cannot use or disclose your information in any other way than what you consent to. If the organization does share your information with your consent, it must be for the reason you gave your personal information to the organization.

Public Sector (government organization)

A government organization at the federal level may, in some circumstances, share your information without your consent. Such circumstances include:

  • In order to comply with a court order
  • The sharing of your information is authorized by law
  • The invasion of your privacy is to the benefit of the public; or
  • The sharing of your information would be to your benefit.

A government organization at the provincial level may also, in some circumstances, share your information without your consent. Such circumstances include:

  • With a similar purpose to which consent was originally given
  • To collect a fine or debt
  • It does not infringe upon another person’s right to privacy (for example an unreasonable invasion of a family member’s privacy); or
  • To inform your family of your injury, illness, or death.

For more information you may want to contact the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner (by email at generalinfo@oipc.ab.ca or by phone at 403-297-2728).

Legal Authorities

  • Personal Information Protection Act, SA 2003, c P-6.5 s 7(1) (Consent required), s 19(2) (Limitations on disclosure).
  • Privacy Act, RSC 1985, c P-21 s 8(1) (Disclosure of personal information, s 8(2) (Where personal information may be disclosed).
  • Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, RSA 2000 c-F25, s 39 (Use of personal information).

Reviewed 08/15

 


Is my information private once it has been collected by an organization or business?

Once a private organization has your information they can only use it for the reason it was collected. This may involve sharing your information but only for the reason you gave it to them.

You have a right to have your personal information protected once it is under the care and control of an organization. The organization with your information must keep it safe and must destroy it once it is finished using the information.

For more information you may want to contact the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner (by email at generalinfo@oipc.ab.ca or by phone at 403-297-2728).

Legal Authorities

  • Personal Information Protection Act, S. 2003, c P-6.5, s 19(2) (Limitations on disclosure), s 34 (Protection of information), s 35 (Retention and destruction of information).

Reviewed 08/15

 


What do I do if I feel my rights aren’t protected?

The answer depends on who you feel has violated your rights.

Public Sector

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides protection from government actions that infringe up the human rights and freedoms of the individual.

If you feel that your privacy has been unfairly infringed upon by a government organization, then the first step is to try to get in touch with and deal directly with that organization. If the issue cannot be resolved and you continue to have concerns about your privacy you may want to contact the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner (by email at generalinfo@oipc.ab.ca or by phone at 403-297-2728).

Private Sector

The provinces also have human rights and freedoms laws that address disputes between individuals and private organizations. In Alberta, our rights and freedoms are protected by the Alberta Human Rights Act.

If you feel that your privacy has been unfairly infringed upon by a private organization, again, the first step is to try to get in touch with and deal directly with that organization.

If the issue cannot be resolved and you continue to have concerns about your privacy there are various resources available to you including:

  • The Alberta Human Rights Commission
    • Website: http://www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca/
    • Phone the Confidential Inquiry Line: 780-427-7661
  • The Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre:
    • Website: http://www.aclrc.com/
    • Phone: 403-220-2505 

Legal Authorities

  • The Constitution Act, 1982, Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11.
  • Alberta Human Rights Act, RSA 2000, c A-25.5. 

Reviewed 08/15

 


What is identity theft and how can I avoid it?

Privacy is your ability to control your personal information.

Identity theft occurs when your personal information (for example your SIN, credit card, birth certificate, driver’s license, passport or other identifying information) is acquired and collected for criminal purposes. The thief gathers personal information about you and creates a “portrait” or “likeness” of you with this information. The identity thief then impersonates you to commit further crimes such as fraud and theft.

If a crime is committed with your identity you could be left with unpaid bills and charges. Therefore, you should always be careful when you provide someone with your personal information or documents.

Protect yourself

Prevention is the best way to deal with this crime. Examples of preventative measures you can take include:

  • When someone asks for information, especially your ID, ask why they need it and what they will use it for. Be particularly careful with your SIN;
  • Shred old documents that have important personal or financial information on them.
  • Put a password on your cell phone and computer;
  • Memorize all passwords and personal identification numbers. Don’t write them down. Make up difficult passwords and change them often;
  • Only carry the pieces of ID that you really need in your wallet (you rarely need your birth certificate!);
  • Do not post or provide personal information such as your date of birth, home address, school name and telephone numbers on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter;
  • Be wary of promotions that want your information. Identity thieves often use bogus offers to persuade you to give them your personal information; and
  • When you enter a personal identification number (PIN) or password, make sure no one is watching.

What to do if your identity has been stolen:

  • Let your local police know as soon as possible if you think you have been a victim. You will need to file a police report;
  • Take action immediately and keep a record with whom you’ve talked to and what was said;
  • Notify your bank and seek advice on keeping your account safe;
  • If your passport was stolen then notify the Passport Office;
  • If your SIN has been stolen contact Service Canada.

For more information you may want to contact the following resources:

Legal Authorities

  • Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 402.1 (Definition of “identity information”).
  • Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 402.2 (Identity theft). 

Reviewed 08/15

 


Photos of me and comments about me were put on a website without my consent, Can I get them removed? What about my reputation now?

The internet is open to the public. Because of this, what you think your privacy right is depends upon the circumstances in which the photos were taken, the types of comments that were made, and the purpose of the website. Some situations can be resolved on your own, while others require legal action.

Ways that you may be able to resolve the problem on your own:

  • Ask if the person will remove the photos or comments
  • If it is happening within school, report it to someone in a place of authority in the school
  • Look for a “report” button on the website
  • Save the on-line post and report the problem to the police
  • Report it to the internet service provider.

Can your school deal with the situation?

Students in Alberta must not participate in or allow bullying of other students, even if the behavior happens online and outside of school hours. Your school will have a code of conduct to address this kind of behavior and your issue can likely be solved by talking to someone you trust at school like a teacher, counsellor, or the principal.

On Social Media

Most social media websites like Facebook and Instagram allow you to report content that may violate their terms and conditions, and these sites will remove a photo or a post if it is inappropriate.

For example, Facebook does not allow content that bullies, harasses, or intimidates a person. Facebook also remove content containing nudity or violence.

However, websites will not remove content that you simply don’t like or think is unflattering.  It must be pretty serious to be removed.

On a Private Website

It may be more difficult to have content removed from a private website.

The companies that provide internet service (like Telus or Rogers) have “Acceptable Use Policies” or “Terms of Service” that prevent someone from using the internet or a cell phone for bullying, harassment, hate speech, and viewing or sending inappropriate material.

If you would like to report an issue to an internet or cell phone service provider, you should save the harmful content to prove there is a problem. If the content goes against their policies, they can figure out who posted the inappropriate content and tell the police. They may also block the content so that it nobody else can see it.

Is it against the law?

Child Pornography

It is a crime to take photos of you without your permission in places where it wouldn’t normally be appropriate to take a photograph, like in a bathroom or in a room where you were changing.

If you are under the age of 18 and the photos of you online are sexual in nature they could be considered “Child Pornography” (see question on “sexting”) and the police may be able to remove them and punish those responsible.

Cyberbullying

Also, if the photos or comments are threatening and make you fear for your safety, the police can also step in and provide assistance.

“Cyberbullying” is a type of harassment using the internet and it is taken very seriously. The law is creating new ways to fight against those who use the internet to commit crimes of harassment and intimidation, with a particular focus on protecting youth.

Defamation

It is against the law for someone to make a false comment online that is meant to hurt your reputation. This is called defamation. If someone makes an attack on you in an attempt to harm your reputation, there can be legal consequences.

However, if someone makes a genuine comment about you online, this is just an opinion and isn’t against the law.

Defamation can often be difficult to prove.

For more information:

You can contact us phone at 403-207-9029 or use the “Ask a lawyer” form on our website.

Also, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada offers some warnings and suggestions on protecting yourself on the internet at www.youthprivacy.ca.

Information on bullying and cyberbullying is available at http://www.getcybersafe.gc.ca/cnt/cbrbllng/tns/index-en.aspx

Legal Authorities

  • Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 s 264.1- Uttering Threats
  • Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 s 162 – Voyeurism
  • Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 s 163.1 – Child Pornography
  • Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 s 264 – Harassment
  • Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 s 298, 299, 300 – Defamation
  • Education Act, SA 2012, c E-0.3 s 31 – Students responsibility not to bully or tolerate bullying
  • Education Act, SA 2012, c E-0.3 s 33 – Responsibility to create code of conduct addressing online bullying
  • O’Malley v O’Callaghan, 1992 CanLII 6090 (AB QB) – Definition of defamation
  • Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, SC 2014, c 31

Reviewed 07/156