Global Privacy and Public Records Policies

Article excerpt

In Europe and Canada, records containing private information are protected more stringently than in the United States. While the United States has opposed comprehensive privacy protection regulations, other nations have passed tough rules governing how companies and governments may collect, release, and use personal data such as age, martial status, buying patterns - even the information on a business card.

European-Union-inspired laws are now the norm in Canada, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia. Increasingly, those rules are shaping the way businesses operate around the globe.

Canadian Privacy Protections

In Canada, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) provides access to most records under the control of the provincial government while protecting the privacy of individuals who do not want their personal information made public. FIPPA's goal is to strike a balance between the public's right to know and an individual's right to privacy.

The act directs that every document, record, or file held by government, regardless of format, is subject to release to the general public. Exemptions are few and narrow in scope but are designed to protect against the unreasonable invasion of personal privacy, to prevent unfair advantages in commercial or government transactions, to protect law enforcement activities, and to safeguard government business.

FIPPA does not apply to

* published information, material available for purchase, court records, and material that is a matter of public record

* archival material, including information at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, that has not been placed there by a government body

* records created or collected by the conflict-of-interest commissioner, the ombudsman, or a review officer relating to their statutory functions

* a record of a question that is to be used on an examination or test

* a record relating to a prosecution if all proceedings are incomplete

* records of the legislature

In Canada, a government body cannot collect personal information unless legislated to do so or stated in an act. Personal information can be collected for law enforcement purposes and if it relates directly to, and is necessary for, a government program. Government bodies can disclose certain types of personal information about a third party with his or her written permission.

A government body can release personal information without the prior approval of the individual if it is in the public interest (i. …