Sidebar: A primer on Canada’s data privacy laws

Here’s a quick primer on Canada’s data privacy laws for commercial firms:

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

  • applies to firms that collect personally identifiable information, unless there are provincial statutes. Some firms may be too small to be covered;
  • applies to all federally-regulated businesses (such as banks, telecom companies and airlines);
  • applies to businesses in all provinces and territories except British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, which have their own private sector privacy laws. These laws apply to personal data that stays entirely within their borders. Personal information that crosses provincial borders (for example, collected in B.C. but stored in Ontario) comes under PIPEDA. For more detail see this page;
  • universities, schools and hospitals are usually covered under provincial data privacy laws.

Personal information includes information on

— race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, marital status, medical, education or employment history, financial information, DNA, identifying numbers such as social insurance number or driver’s licence, and views or opinions about an employee.

Information that is not personal under PIPEDA includes

  • a person’s business contact information collected used or disclosed for the sole purpose of communicating with that person in relation to their employment, business or profession;
  • information that has been rendered anonymous, as long as it is not possible to link that data back to an identifiable person.

Every organization subject to PIPEDA is required to designate an individual to be accountable for compliance with the act.

A breach of the firm’s security controls that involves personal information that poses a real risk of significant harm to individuals must be reported to the affected persons as soon as feasible and to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Businesses have an obligation to protect the personal information they collect. Firms that commit offenses may be subject to fines of up to $100,000 under PIPEDA and in B.C. and Alberta private sector law. For now, firms that violate Quebec’s privacy law can be fined up to $100,000, but that increases significantly when new rules come into effect on Sept. 22.

There isn’t a national U.S. privacy law. To find the status of U.S. state privacy laws, see this legislation tracker from the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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