Privacy laws govern the use and storage of information, including financial, healthcare, and personal data which persons, private and public entities, and government bodies collect. In Canada, different laws govern data protection, including sector-specific and provincial legislation, the Personal Information Protection Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and the Privacy Act.
What Counts as Personal Information
The Privacy Act and PIPEDA define it as person’s financial details, employment, education, and medical history, marital status, age, and religion. Other details include DNA, social insurance number, ethnicity, nationality, and race, and employee’s opinions and views.
The Privacy Act
The Canadian Privacy Act regulates the government’s access and use of personal information while providing services. These include public and border safety, employment insurance, old age security, tax collection, and others. The act also protects the right of individuals to access personal information held by the federal authorities and to correct any details that are not accurate.
There are certain exclusions such as material held in the Canadian Museum of Nature, Canadian Museum of History, National Gallery of Canada, and Library and Archives of Canada. The provisions do not apply to personal data disclosed, used, held, and collected by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
This act deals with how business entities use personal information that has been collected for commercial purposes. PIPEDA contains provisions on application, purpose, and interpretation, court hearings, investigation and filing of complaints, and compliance agreements. The provisions do not apply to data collected by entities for literary, artistic, or journalistic materials and information collected for domestic and individual use. The act also does not apply to government entities that fall under the Privacy Act.
Organizations Subject to Federal Regulations
Certain organizations are federally regulated and fall under PIPEDA, including TV and radio broadcasters, telecommunication operators, foreign and national banks, and airlines, aircraft, and airports. Other entities that are subject to PIPEDA include offshore drilling operators and international and inter-provincial transport companies. All organizations operating in Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwestern Territories are subject to federal legislation and are thus covered by the Personal Information Protection Electronic Documents Act.
Several provinces have their own privacy laws, including Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta. Entities that fall under provincial legislation are not subject to PIPEDA. Some provinces have adopted legislation that is similar to PIPEDA with regard to health information. These include Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick. The Personal Health Information Act of Nova Scotia, for example, governs the destruction, disposal, holding, use, collection, and disclosure of health data. Custodians authorized under the act include home oxygen agencies, home care agencies, hearing and speech centres, and Mi’kmaw First Nation bands. The act also authorizes non-custodian entities such as the Office of the Public Trustee, Minister of Community Services, and Workers’ Compensation Board.
PIPEDA or Provincial Laws
Territorial and provincial legislation applies to activities carried out by hospitals, public schools, recreation complexes, and local transit authorities. The same applies to charities and non-for-profits such as clubs and professional and sports associations. On the other hand, commercial private sector entities are subject to PIPEDA, examples being entertainment venues, insurance providers, restaurants and hotels, services providers, and retail stores. Entities that are mainly operating outside of Canada are also regulated by PIPEDA.
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Individuals who have privacy issues with various entities can contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. It is tasked with the implementation of federal legislation and conducting investigations into federal bodies and businesses.