Policy on Privacy Protection

Provides direction to government institutions to ensure compliance with the Privacy Act.
Date modified: 2020-06-18

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1. Effective date

2. Authorities

  • 2.1This policy is issued pursuant to paragraph 71(1)(d) of the Privacy Act. This policy also contains elements that relate to paragraphs 71(1)(b) and (e) of the Act.
  • 2.2The President of the Treasury Board, as designated Minister for the paragraphs of the Privacy Act referenced in section 2.1 above, is responsible for establishing policies and prescribing forms concerning the operation of the Act and its Regulations.

3. Objectives and expected results

  • 3.1The objectives of this policy are:
    • 3.1.1Canadians have confidence that the government is protecting their privacy with regard to their personal information.
    • 3.1.2Canadians have confidence that they can access their personal information that is under the control of government institutions.
    • 3.1.3Personal information under the control of government institutions is effectively protected and managed through identifying, assessing, monitoring and mitigating privacy risks in programs and activities involving the collection, creation, retention, use, disclosure and disposal of personal information.
    • 3.1.4Government institutions are accountable and transparent in the protection and management of personal information.
  • 3.2The expected results of this policy are:
    • 3.2.1Government institutions have appropriate processes and tools to support the administration of the Privacy Act.
    • 3.2.2Government institutions offer requesters easily accessible mechanisms to make personal information requests.
    • 3.2.3Government institutions provide complete, accurate and timely responses to requests for personal information or correction of personal information.
    • 3.2.4Employees understand their obligations under the Privacy Act.
    • 3.2.5Performance is measured and compliance issues are identified and addressed.

4. Requirements

  • 4.1Heads of government institutions are responsible for:

    Delegation of powers, duties and functions under the Privacy Act

    • 4.1.1Deciding whether to delegate, pursuant to section 73 of the Privacy Act, any of the powers, duties or functions under the Act that are listed in Appendix B: Powers That Can Be Delegated.
    • 4.1.2When signing a delegation order, giving careful consideration to the delegation of any powers, duties or functions pursuant to section 73 of the Privacy Act and ensuring that:
      • 4.1.2.1Powers, duties and functions are:
        • 4.1.2.1.1Delegated only to officers and employees of their government institution, or of another government institution within the same ministerial portfolio when there is a service-sharing agreement between the two government institutions;
        • 4.1.2.1.2Not delegated to consultants, members of a Minister’s exempt staff, employees of other government institutions with which there is no service-sharing agreement, or to individuals from the private sector; and
        • 4.1.2.1.3Delegated to positions identified by title, not to individuals identified by name;
      • 4.1.2.2Delegates understand that they are accountable for any decisions they make, but ultimate responsibility remains with the head of the government institution;
      • 4.1.2.3Delegates are at the appropriate level to be able to fulfil the duties of their delegated authorities and are well informed of their responsibilities;
      • 4.1.2.4Delegates cannot further delegate powers, duties and functions that have been delegated to them, although employees and consultants may perform tasks in support of delegates’ responsibilities; and
      • 4.1.2.5Delegation orders are reviewed when the circumstances surrounding the delegations have changed. A delegation order remains in force until it is replaced.
  • 4.2Heads of government institutions or their delegates are responsible for:

    Privacy practices

    Privacy awareness

    • 4.2.1Ensuring that employees of the government institution are aware of policies, procedures and legal responsibilities under the Act.

    Notifying the Privacy Commissioner

    • 4.2.2Notifying the Privacy Commissioner of any planned initiatives (legislation, regulations, policies, programs) that could relate to the Act or to any of its provisions, or that may have an impact on the privacy of Canadians. This notification is to take place at a sufficiently early stage to permit the Commissioner to review and discuss the issues involved.

    Use of the Social Insurance Number

    • 4.2.3Ensuring compliance with the specific terms and conditions related to the use of the Social Insurance Number and the specific restrictions with regard to its collection, use and disclosure as per the Directive on Social Insurance Number.

    Privacy impact assessment

    • 4.2.4Ensuring that, when applicable, privacy impact assessments (PIAs) and multi-institutional PIAs are developed, maintained and published.

    Privacy protocol for non-administrative purposes

    • 4.2.5Establishing a privacy protocol within the government institution for the collection, use or disclosure of personal information for non-administrative purposes, including research, statistical, audit and evaluation purposes.

    Personal information banks

    • 4.2.6Preparing new or modified personal information bank descriptions.
    • 4.2.7Consulting with Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) on any proposal to establish or revoke an exempt bank.
    • 4.2.8Submitting a request to TBS for approval to establish or revoke personal information banks.
    • 4.2.9Updating the prescribed repository of personal information bank descriptions, for all new or modified personal information banks.

    Contracts and agreements

    • 4.2.10Establishing measures, when personal information is involved, to ensure that the government institution meets the requirements of the Privacy Act when contracting with private sector entities, or when establishing agreements or arrangements with public sector institutions.
    • 4.2.11Ensuring that appropriate privacy protection clauses are included in contracts or agreements that may involve intergovernmental or transborder flows of personal information.

    Service sharing

    • 4.2.12Ensuring that the requirements of section 73.1 of the Act are respected when entering into a service-sharing agreement.
    • 4.2.13Providing a copy of any new service-sharing agreement, and any material changes to an existing service-sharing agreement, to the President of the Treasury Board and to the Privacy Commissioner as soon as possible after entering into the agreement or after any material changes arise. This responsibility rests with the head of a government institution to which the services are provided.

    Control of personal information

    • 4.2.14Determining, in a manner consistent with jurisprudence and considering any TBS guidance, whether the personal information is under the control of the government institution.

    Requests and corrections

    Exercising discretion

    • 4.2.15Exercising discretion under the Privacy Act and associated regulations in a fair, reasonable and impartial manner with respect to decisions made in the processing of requests and the resolution of complaints pursuant to the Act.

    Duty to assist - Protecting the identity of the requester

    • 4.2.16Ensuring that requesters' identities are protected and only used or disclosed when authorized by the Act and where there is a clear need-to-know.

    Duty to assist - Complete, accurate, and timely responses

    • 4.2.17Ensuring that every reasonable effort is made to assist requesters in connection with the request, in order to provide complete, accurate and timely responses.

    Language of access

    • 4.2.18Providing the personal information in the official language requested, in accordance with subsection 17(2) of the Act.

    Accessible format for requesters

    • 4.2.19Providing the personal information in an alternative format, in accordance with subsection 17(3) of the Act, when requested by the requester.

    Processing requests

    • 4.2.20Establishing effective procedures and systems to respond to requests under the Act to ensure that:
      • 4.2.20.1Requests can be received through the prescribed platform in accordance with Appendix D: Prescribed Platforms for Receiving and Processing Personal Information Requests of the Directive on Personal Information Requests and Correction of Personal Information, unless the institution has received an exception to use of the platform, and can be received in written format by other means;
      • 4.2.20.2Requests are processed using prescribed platforms in accordance with Appendix D: Prescribed Platforms for Receiving and Processing Personal Information Requests of the Directive on Personal Information Requests and Correction of Personal Information, when platforms have been prescribed, unless the institution has received an exception to use of the platform;
      • 4.2.20.3Deliberations and decisions concerning requests received under the Act are documented;
      • 4.2.20.4The requested personal information is reviewed to determine whether it is subject to the Act, and if it is, determining whether any exemptions apply;
      • 4.2.20.5The principle of severability is applied; and
      • 4.2.20.6Any consultations necessary for the processing of requests made pursuant to the Act are undertaken promptly.

    Confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council

    • 4.2.21Consulting the institution’s legal counsel, in compliance with established procedures, prior to excluding confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada.
    • 4.2.22Upon the request of the Privacy Commissioner, acquiring assurances that excluded information is a Confidence of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, in compliance with established procedures.

    Considering other means of making government information accessible

    • 4.2.23Establishing procedures to review the nature of requests received and assessing the feasibility of making frequently requested and disclosed types of information available by other means.

    Monitoring and reporting

    • 4.2.24Monitoring compliance with this policy and its supporting instruments within their institution.
    • 4.2.25Investigating when issues regarding policy compliance arise and ensuring that appropriate remedial action is taken to address these issues.
    • 4.2.26Advising the Secretary of the Treasury Board on a timely basis when significant issues regarding policy compliance arise.
    • 4.2.27Preparing and tabling an annual report on the administration of the Act in each House of Parliament in accordance with requirements established by TBS.
    • 4.2.28Providing the Privacy Commissioner and TBS with a copy of the annual report.
    • 4.2.29Providing TBS with a statistical report on the administration of the Privacy Act within the institution.
    • 4.2.30Providing the contact information of the appropriate officer to receive personal information or correction requests for publication in the prescribed contact list.

5. Roles of other government organizations

  • 5.1This section identifies other key government organizations in relation to this policy. In and of itself, this section does not confer any authority.
  • 5.2The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat is responsible for supporting the President of the Treasury Board in:
    • 5.2.1Issuing direction and guidance to government institutions with respect to the administration of the Privacy Act and the interpretation of this policy and its supporting instruments.
    • 5.2.2Approving exceptions to any requirement in this policy or its supporting instruments.
      • 5.2.2.1Advising the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, as required, of any exceptions to any requirement in this policy or its supporting instruments that have been granted.
    • 5.2.3Prescribing forms and platforms to be used in the administration of the Act, as well as the form and content of the annual report to Parliament.
    • 5.2.4Reviewing regularly, or at least every five years, the policy, its related directives, mandatory procedures, standards, guidelines, forms, and prescribed platforms to assess their continued effectiveness and accuracy. When substantiated by risk-analysis, TBS will also ensure that an evaluation is conducted.
    • 5.2.5Overseeing compliance with this policy and its supporting instruments across government institutions, leveraging existing reporting mechanisms as appropriate.
    • 5.2.6Designating the repository for personal information bank descriptions, for all new or modified personal information banks.
    • 5.2.7Publishing annually an index of personal information under the control of government institutions that is confirmed to be up-to-date.
    • 5.2.8Reviewing new and modified personal information banks and assigning a registration number to new personal information banks.
    • 5.2.9Working with the Canada School of Public Service to integrate knowledge elements related to the Privacy Act and associated policy instruments into training courses, programs and knowledge assessment instruments.
  • 5.3The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is an Agent of Parliament with the duty of protecting and promoting privacy rights and is responsible for:
    • 5.3.1Receiving and independently investigating complaints from individuals or self-initiated complaints on any matter related to the handling of personal information by federal government institutions.
    • 5.3.2Conducting compliance reviews of the privacy practices of government institutions as the practices relate to the collection, retention, accuracy, use, disclosure and disposal of personal information by government institutions subject to the Act.
    • 5.3.3Communicating the outcomes of investigations to the complainant and, where required, to the head of the appropriate government institution.
    • 5.3.4Issuing recommendations that the Commissioner considers appropriate in relation to investigations where a complaint is well-founded, to the head of the government institution.
    • 5.3.5Reporting to Parliament on activities annually. The Privacy Commissioner can also report at any time on any important matter within the scope of the Commissioner’s powers, duties and functions.
  • 5.4The Clerk of the Privy Council Office is responsible for ensuring the integrity of the Cabinet process and the stewardship of the documents that support this process. As custodian of the confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada of the current and previous ministries, the Clerk is responsible for policies on the administration of these confidences and for the ultimate determination of what constitutes such confidences, and must be consulted in a manner consistent with the guidance in the Access to Information Manual.
  • 5.5The Department of Justice is responsible for supporting the Minister of Justice in the role of designated Minister for certain provisions of the Privacy Act, specifically:
    • 5.5.1Designating, by order-in-council, the head of a government institution for the purposes of the Act.
    • 5.5.2Recommending extensions of the right of access by Order in Council.
    • 5.5.3Specifying in regulations the government institutions or part of a government institution for the purpose of paragraph (e) of the definition of personal information in section 3 of the Act.
    • 5.5.4Specifying investigative bodies and classes of investigations.
    • 5.5.5Specifying persons or bodies for the purposes of paragraph 8(2)(h).
    • 5.5.6Specifying classes of investigations for the purpose of paragraph 22(3)(c).
    • 5.5.7Amending the Schedule of the Act.

6. Application

  • 6.1This policy and its supporting instruments apply to government institutions as defined in section 3 of the Privacy Act, including departments, ministries of state, any parent Crown corporations and any wholly owned subsidiary of these corporations.
  • 6.2This policy does not apply to the Bank of Canada.

7. Consequences of non-compliance

  • 7.1For those government institutions that do not comply with this policy and its related instruments, there may be a requirement to provide additional information relating to the development and implementation of compliance strategies in their annual report to Parliament, or to TBS directly. This reporting may be in addition to other reporting requirements.
  • 7.2TBS will work collaboratively with heads of institutions or their delegates to restore compliance.
  • 7.3For those government institutions subject to the Management Accountability Framework (MAF), and to the extent that privacy protection is considered in the performance measurement indicators of the MAF, non-compliance with respect to this policy and its related instruments will be reported in the assessment prepared as part of the MAF process.
  • 7.4On the basis of analysis of monitoring and information received, the President of the Treasury Board may make recommendations to the head of the government institution. This could include prescribing any additional reporting requirements, as outlined in section 7.1 above.
  • 7.5The President of the Treasury Board, upon notification by TBS officials of a systemic compliance issue at a government institution, may review and revoke any delegation made under subsection 71(6) of the Privacy Act. This provision allows the President of Treasury Board to delegate to heads of government institutions that are departments as defined in section 2 of the Financial Administration Act, any of the powers, functions and duties of the President of the Treasury Board with regard to the review and approval of new or modified personal information banks.

8. References

9. Enquiries


Appendix A: Definitions

Note: Certain terms contain excerpts (in quotation marks, with the reference cited) from the Privacy Act (the Act).

administrative purpose (fins administratives)
The use of personal information about an individual "in a decision making process that directly affects that individual" (section 3). This includes all uses of personal information for confirming identity (i.e. authentication and verification purposes) and for determining eligibility of individuals for government programs.
annual report (rapport annuel)
A report submitted by the head of a government institution to Parliament on the administration of the Act within the institution during the fiscal year.
complainant (plaignant(e))
An individual who makes a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner on any of the grounds outlined in subsection 29(1) of the Privacy Act.
consistent use (usage compatible)
A use that has a reasonable and direct connection to the original purpose(s) for which the information was obtained or compiled. This means that the original purpose and the proposed purpose are so closely related that the individual would expect that the information would be used for the consistent purpose, even if the use is not spelled out.
data matching (couplage des données)
An activity involving the comparison of personal information from different sources, including sources within the same government institution, for administrative or non-administrative purposes. The data-matching activity that is established can be systematic or recurring. The data-matching activity can also be conducted on a periodic basis when deemed necessary. Under this policy, data matching includes the disclosure or sharing of personal information with another organization for data-matching purposes.
delegate (délégué)
An officer or employee of a government institution or of another government institution within the same ministerial portfolio when there is a service-sharing agreement between the two government institutions, who has been delegated to exercise or perform the powers, duties and functions of the head of the institution under the Act.
designated minister (ministre désigné)
A person who is designated as the Minister under subsection 3.1(1). For the purposes of this policy, the designated minister is the President of the Treasury Board.
excluded information (renseignements exclus)
The information to which the Act does not apply, as described in sections 69, 69.1, 70 and 70.1.
exempt bank (fichier inconsultable)
A personal information bank that describes files, all of which consist predominantly of personal information that relates to international affairs, defence, law enforcement and investigation, as outlined in sections 21 and 22 of the Act. The head of a government institution can refuse to disclose any personal information requested that is contained in an exempt bank.
exemption (exception)
A mandatory or discretionary provision under the Act that authorizes the head of the government institution to refuse to disclose information in response to a request received under the Act.
government institution (institution fédérale)
Any department or ministry of state of the Government of Canada, or any body or office, listed in Schedule in the Act; any parent Crown corporation; and any wholly-owned subsidiary of a Crown corporation, within the meaning of section 83 of the Financial Administration Act. The term "government institution" does not include Ministers' Offices.
head (responsable)
The member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada who presides over a department or ministry of state. In any other case, it is the person designated by the Privacy Act Heads of Government Institutions Designation Order. If no such person is designated, the chief executive officer of the government institution, whatever their title, is the head.
Information about programs and information holdings (Renseignements sur les programmes et les fonds de renseignements)
The TBS-directed webpage published by each government institution in which the institution describes their program responsibilities and information holdings, including personal information banks and classes of personal information. The descriptions are to contain sufficient clarity and detail to facilitate the exercise of the right of access under the Privacy Act. Data-matching activities, use of the Social Insurance Number and all activities for which privacy impact assessments were conducted have to be cited in personal information banks, as applicable. The webpage also provides contact information for government institutions as well as summaries of court cases and statistics on access requests. This webpage must be updated at least once per year.
multi-institutional privacy impact assessments (évaluations des facteurs relatifs à la vie privée multi-institutionnelles)
A privacy impact assessment that involves more than one government institution (see definition of privacy impact assessment, below).
new consistent use (nouvel usage compatible)
A consistent use that was not originally identified in the relevant personal information bank description.
non-administrative purpose (fins non-administratives)
The use of personal information for a purpose that is not related to any decision-making process that directly affects the individual. This includes the use of personal information for research, statistical, audit and evaluation purposes.
personal information (renseignements personnels)
Information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form. See section 3 of the Act for additional information.
personal information bank (fichier de renseignements personnels)
A description of personal information that is organized or intended to be retrieved by a person's name or by an identifying number, symbol or other particular assigned only to that person. The personal information described in the personal information bank has been used, is being used, or is available for an administrative purpose and is under the control of a government institution.
personal information request (demande de renseignements personnels)
A request for access to personal information under the Act.
privacy impact assessment (évaluation des facteurs relatifs à la vie privée)
A process prescribed in policy for identifying, assessing and mitigating privacy risks. Government institutions are to develop and maintain privacy impact assessments for all new or modified programs and activities that involve the use of personal information for an administrative purpose.
Privacy Implementation Notice (Avis de mise en œuvre de la protection des renseignements personnels)
A notice issued by TBS to provide guidance on the interpretation and application of the Privacy Act and its related policy, directives, standards and guidelines.
Privacy Commissioner (commissaire à la protection de la vie privée)
An Agent of Parliament appointed by the Governor in Council who is mandated to ensure that rights and obligations set out in the Privacy Act are respected.
privacy protocol (protocol relatif à la protection des renseignements personnels)
A set of documented procedures to be followed when using personal information for non-administrative purposes including research, statistical, audit and evaluation purposes. These procedures are to ensure that the individual's personal information is handled in a manner that is consistent with the principles of the Act.
program or activity (programme ou activité)
For the purposes of the collection of personal information by government institutions subject to this policy, a program or activity is authorized or approved by Parliament. Parliamentary authority is usually contained in an Act of Parliament or subsequent Regulations. Parliamentary authority can also be in the form of approval of expenditures proposed in the Estimates and as authorized by an appropriation Act. Also included in this definition are any activities conducted as part of the administration of the program.
requester (demandeur)
A person who is requesting access to personal information about themself or who has requested that a correction be made or a notation attached to their personal information.
severability (prélèvement)
Relates to the principle found under the Access to Information Act in which the protection of information from disclosure must be limited to the portions of information or material that the head of the government institution is authorized or obligated to refuse to disclose under the Act and should be applied as a best practice in the spirit of transparency.
Social Insurance Number (SIN) (numéro d'assurance sociale (NAS))
A number suitable for use as a file number or account number or for data-processing purposes, as defined in subsection 138(3) of the Employment Insurance Act. For purposes of paragraph 3(c) of the Privacy Act, the SIN is an identifying number, and is therefore considered to be personal information.
statistical report (rapport statistique)
Provides data on the administration of the Act in the previous fiscal year. The statistical report is included in government institutions’ annual reports to Parliament. The forms used for preparing the report are prescribed by the designated minister, as provided under paragraphs 71(1)(c) and (e) of the Privacy Act.

Appendix B: Powers that can be delegated

Pursuant to section 73 of the Privacy Act, the head of a government institution may, by order, designate one or more officers or employees of that institution, or in the case of a service-sharing agreement, employees of another government institution within the same ministerial portfolio, who are at the appropriate level, to exercise or perform any of the powers, duties or functions that are to be exercised or performed by the institutional head under the following provisions of the Act and the Privacy Regulations.

Privacy Act

  • 8(2)(j) Disclosure for research purposes
  • 8(2)(m) Disclosure in the public interest or in the interest of the individual
  • 8(4) Copies of requests under 8(2)(e) to be retained
  • 8(5) Notice of disclosure under 8(2)(m)
  • 9(1) Record of disclosures to be retained
  • 9(4) Consistent uses
  • 10 Personal information to be included in personal information banks
  • 14 Notice where access requested
  • 15 Extension of time limits
  • 16 Where access is refused
  • 17(2)(b) Language of access
  • 17(3)(b) Access to personal information in alternative format
  • 18(2) Exemption (exempt bank) - Disclosure may be refused
  • 19(1) Exemption - Personal information obtained in confidence
  • 19(2) Exemption - Where authorized to disclose
  • 20 Exemption - Federal-provincial affairs
  • 21 Exemption - International affairs and defence
  • 22 Exemption - Law enforcement and investigation
  • 22.1* Exemption - Information obtained by Privacy Commissioner
  • 22.2* Exemption - Public Sector Integrity Commissioner
  • 22.3 Exemption - Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act
  • 22.4* Exemption - Secretariat of National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians
  • 23 Exemption - Security clearances
  • 24 Exemption - Individuals sentenced for an offence
  • 25 Exemption - Safety of individuals
  • 26 Exemption - Information about another individual
  • 27 Exemption – Protected information – solicitors, advocates and notaries
  • 27.1 Exemption – Protected information – patents and trade-marks
  • 28 Exemption - Medical record
  • 33(2) Right to make representation
  • 35(4) Access to be given
  • 51(2)(b) Special rules for hearings
  • 72(1) Report to Parliament

*Note: The exemptions identified with an asterisk may only be claimed by the institutions named in the provision

Privacy Regulations

  • 9 Reasonable facilities and time provided to examine personal information
  • 11(2) Notification that correction to personal information has been made
  • 11(4) Notification that correction to personal information has been refused
  • 13(1) Disclosure of personal information relating to physical or mental health may be made to a qualified medical practitioner or psychologist for an opinion on whether to release information to the requester
  • 14 Disclosure of personal information relating to physical or mental health may be made to a requester in the presence of a qualified medical practitioner or psychologist

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the President of the Treasury Board, 2018,
ISBN: 978-0-660-27231-3

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