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Privacy Compliance Mandatory For Canadian Business

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 06 January 2004 00:00

Many Canadians believe that because they have nothing to hide, they do not need protection for their personal information. Sadly, too many have learned how valuable privacy of personal information is after their lives have been invaded by salespeople, scams and unscrupulous individuals.

According to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, "technology makes us all vulnerable from the time we get up in the morning until we climb into bed at night because we leave a trail of data behind us for others to collect, merge, analyze, massage and even sell, often without our knowledge or consent."

In this all-pervasive electronic world, choosing who knows about you and what they know are rights worth going to great lengths to protect and the Canadian government has legislation in place to support individual battles for privacy.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) , which received Royal Assent on April 13, 2000, is in the final stage of its implementation. This Act was created "to support and promote electronic commerce by protecting personal information that is collected, used or disclosed in certain circumstances, by providing for the use of electronic means to communicate or record information or transactions and by amending the Canada Evidence Act, the Statutory Instruments Act and the Statute Revision Act."

As of January 1, 2004, PIPEDA expanded to cover commercial use of personal information within individual provinces and it extended to every organization that collects, uses or discloses personal information in the course of a commercial activity within a province, whether or not the organization is a federally-regulated business or not. Back on January 1, 2001, regulation of federally-regulated private sector and out-of-province exchanges of personal information began and was expanded to include personal health information the following year. However, the federal government may exempt organizations and/or activities in provinces that have adopted privacy legislation that is similar to the federal law.

What is "personal information?" Any factual or subjective information, recorded or not, about an identifiable individual, that goes beyond job title, telephone number, address or anything that might appear on a business card, or that can be found through publicly available information such as the telephone book. Protected personal information includes:

  • Age, name, weight, height;
  • Medical records;
  • ID numbers, including your SIN, income, ethnic origin, or blood type;
  • Opinions, evaluations, comments, social status, or disciplinary action; and,
  • Employee files, credit records, loan records, existence of a dispute between a consumer and a merchant, intentions (for example, to acquire goods or services, or change jobs.)

According to the Ontario Real Estate Association in its publication Realtor Edge: "Complying with the new act should not be difficult for REALTORS as much of the 'obtaining of consent' to a very substantial portion of a REALTOR'S service to his or her clients happens naturally in a listing presentation. Even before the need to comply with privacy, REALTORS were required to 'tell all' about MLS when listing a property on the MLS."

The personal information you provide to an organization can be used to implement new programs or in business dealings with other companies, but according to PIPEDA or comparable provincial legislation, organizations may only collect, use or disclose information for purposes for which you have given consent.

OREA tells its members, known as REALTORS, that they have many resources to help them comply with PIPEDA: "When sitting down to your next listing presentation you should have the following tools with you:

  • A copy of your firm's Privacy Policy
  • CREA's privacy pamphlet to leave with potential clients
  • An OREA standard form listing agreement
  • A thorough explanation of what personal information you need and what you will be doing with it."

OREA and other provincial real estate organizations work to provide online, print and educational materials to help their real estate professionals comply with this and all other relevant legislation.

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada (and provincial/territorial counterparts) is there to ensure privacy compliance and adequate protection for the privacy rights of Canadians by making certain that organizations don't only comply with rulings they find agreeable or convenient. Visit the Privacy Commissioner site for more on topics from protecting your privacy on the Internet and identity theft to safeguarding your SIN .

"Increasingly, living a modern urban life seems to mean there is nowhere to hide. In our search for security and convenience, are we hitching ourselves to an electronic leash?" -- The Privacy Commissioner of Canada's Annual Report 1995-96.

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