Security Trumps Privacy
Posted in Commercial

This post was submitted by Lawson Lundell guest author Euan Sinclair, Director, Knowledge Management.

The titanic legal battle over the soul of Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act took a new twist recently, when the Supreme Court of Canada refused the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner’s application for leave to appeal the Alberta Court of Appeal’s landmark 2-1 judgment in favour of its opponent, Leon’s Furniture Limited.  As such, the Court of Appeal’s majority judgment prevails.

The effect is that it will be reasonable, and therefore lawful, for organizations to collect and retain personal information in Alberta (such as the information contained on a driving licence) as part of system for combatting theft and fraud. Note that there are limits here:  an important factor in the Court of Appeal’s judgment was that, as an integral part of that system, Leon’s Furniture:

  • stored the information separately from the other customer information;
  • did not share the information with third parties; nor
  • used the information for marketing or other collateral purposes.

The Court of Appeal’s decision that information on a vehicle licence plate is not “personal information”, as it does not relate directly to an individual and is available to the public in any event, also stands.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal will be a blow to the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner, as his avenue for appeal is exhausted. Only primary legislation can change the law now. The refusal by the Supreme Court to hear the appeal may well redefine the balance to be struck between security and privacy across Canada.


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