The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

PIPEDA Case Summary #282: Excessive disclosures in the pursuit of a debt - October 21, 2004 

Ther Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act allows an organization to disclose personal information without consent in connection with the collection of a debt owed to that organization (see s. 7(3)(b) of the Act). This does not, however, provide blanket permission to disclose the debtor's circumstances and credit history in doing so. The Privacy Commissioner's office has just released finding #282, in which an individual complained about excessive disclosure during collections actions by a bank:

Commissioner's Findings - PIPEDA Case Summary #282: Excessive disclosures in the pursuit of a debt - October 21, 2004 - Privacy Commissioner of Canada: "An individual claimed that a bank disclosed a significant amount of his personal information to two of his employees without his consent. The complainant alleged that these disclosures were extremely damaging to his reputation and contributed to his decision to resign as the head of a company."

The complainant alleged, an produced compelling evidence, that the bank in question "had told [the complainant's employees] that the complainant’s account was severely delinquent, his credit card was suspended from further use, his payment history was sketchy, the bank was intending to enforce its claim against the complainant, and as part of that enforcement, was going to garnish his wages, which would be embarrassing for both the company and the complainant."

The Assistant Privacy Commissioner was not amused. She found:

  • While acknowledging that an organization may disclose an individual’s personal information without consent for the purpose of collecting a debt, this exception did not confer, as noted in an earlier finding made by this Office, a carte blanche upon an organization to disclose however much information it wished in pursuing a debt.
  • In this instance, there was clear documentary evidence, from the tape recording as well as from the sworn affidavits, that an excessive amount of information was divulged during the bank’s debt collection activities.
  • The bank had stated that it was calling the complainant’s employees to verify his employment and that it was planning to garnish his wages. While the Assistant Commissioner acknowledged that an organization must disclose some information to an employer when seeking to garnish the debtor’s wages, in her opinion, the bank went too far in its attempt to recover the debt.
  • There was no need to reveal the debtor’s payment history, the amount of money owed, or that the debtor’s credit card was suspended from further use, to name but a few examples of information that the Assistant Commissioner considered excessive.
  • She thus found the bank in contravention of Principle 4.3.

In short, any organization collecting a debt may only disclose the minimum amount of personal information necessary. Any more, and you are likely offside.

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