Operational Information as “Personal Information” Sheila M. Tucker
Issue:• The scope of the definition of “personal information” for purposes of privacy legislation
Employment issue:• Does the definition extend statutory protection to information that identifies individual employees for operational purposes: e.g., time sheets? attendance records? work records? client invoices? client reports?
British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act(“PIPA”)• PIPA’s statutory definition of “personal information” reads: “personal information” means information about an identifiable individual….
Comparators:• Federal The federal Privacy Act (and, by incorporation, the federal Access to Information Act) defines “personal information” as “information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form”
• Ontario Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act defines personal information as “information about an identifiable individual”
Court Discussion of Privacy in the Search and SeizureContext• … While I do not wish to be taken as adopting the position that commercial records such as cancelled cheques are not subject to [Charter] s. 8 protection, I do agree … that in order for constitutional protection to be extended, the information seized must be of a "personal and confidential" nature. In fostering the underlying values of dignity, integrity and autonomy, it is fitting that s. 8 of the Charter should seek to protect a biographical core of personal information which individuals in a free and democratic society would wish to maintain and control from dissemination to the state. This would include information which tends to reveal intimate details of the lifestyle and personal choices of the individual. The computer records investigated in the case at bar while revealing the pattern of electricity consumption in the residence cannot reasonably be said to reveal intimate details of the appellants life since electricity consumption reveals very little about the personal lifestyle or private decisions of the occupant of the residence. R. v. Plant,  3 S.C.R. 281 at 293 (Supreme Court of Canada) (emphasis added)
Federal Privacy Legislation• 53 The information at issue is not "about" an individual. As found by the application judge (at para. 18 of her reasons) the content of the communications is limited to the safety and navigation of aircraft, the general operation of the aircraft, and the exchange of messages on behalf of the public. They contain information about the status of the aircraft, weather conditions, matters associated with air traffic control and the utterances of the pilots and controllers. These are not subjects that engage the right to privacy of individuals.
• 54 The information contained in the records at issue is of a professional and non- personal nature. The information may have the effect of permitting or leading to the identification of a person. It may assist in a determination as to how he or she has performed his or her task in a given situation. But the information does not thereby qualify as personal information. It is not about an individual, considering that it does not match the concept of "privacy" and the values that concept is meant to protect. It is non-personal information transmitted by an individual in job-related circumstances. Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board) and NAV Canada, 2006 FCA 157 (Federal Court of Appeal) (“NAV Canada”) (court emphasis)
Ontario Privacy Legislation• The meaning of "about" the individual10 To qualify as personal information, the information must be about the individual in a personal capacity. As a general rule, information associated with an individual in a professional, official or business capacity will not be considered to be "about" the individual. Order PO-2715; Ontario (Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services),  OIPC No. 177 (QL) (Ontario Privacy Commission Adjudicator), para. 10 (emphasis added)
Implicit Limitations in BC?• There are cases before the Commission arguing that the definition must be interpreted “purposively” to limit the statutory protection to information that engages privacy values• That information should only be “personal” if the underlying privacy values of dignity, integrity and autonomy are reasonably engaged by the nature of the information
Would a purposive approach protect the followinginformation?• attendance information - is the employee at work?• information about where in the field an employee is working?• information about which employee performed what work?
Alternative to Implied Limitation - Express Exclusion of“Work Product Information”• “‘personal information’ means information about an identifiable individual … but does not include …work product information”• “‘work product information’ means information prepared or collected by an individual or group of individuals as a part of the individuals or groups responsibilities or activities related to the individuals or groups employment or business but does not include personal information about an individual who did not prepare or collect the personal information.”• Success would require the Commission to hold that “prepared” extends to operational information produced or generated by an individual in the course of his or her work activities
Summary• Common sense has guided the complaints being made under PIPA and, historically, complaints have not been brought regarding operational information• However - a decision encouraging same could be shortly forthcoming• STAY TUNED