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Commissioner issues guidance on privacy and the COVID-19 outbreak

March 20, 2020

Privacy Act Bulletins are intended to offer lessons learned, best practices and other important privacy news, trends and information related to privacy protection in the federal public sector.


The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) has issued guidance to help organizations subject to federal privacy laws address privacy issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

During a public health crisis, privacy laws still apply, but they are not a barrier to appropriate information sharing.

The new document provides general guidance on applying the Privacy Act as well as Canada’s federal private-sector privacy law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in the context of the current outbreak.

The guidance sets out examples of purposes for which personal information may be disclosed by a government institution without consent.

In applying the guidance, it will be important for federal institutions to exercise careful judgement; apply the important privacy principles of necessity and proportionality; and ensure they operate with lawful authority.

Challenges facing federal institutions

The COVID-19 situation has created many challenges for government institutions. 

While we cannot extend statutory deadlines under the Privacy Act, we will be flexible in our enforcement of the law.

Clearly, the situation remains fluid, which would call for the potential to revisit the situation in a few weeks, or as need be.

We have heard of institutions who, in order to manage the impact of COVID-19 on their operations, have decided to reduce their capacity to respond to access to information requests. We encourage these institutions to provide some form of notice of their reduced capacity and any measures taken to limit the impact on the rights of individuals.

Here to help: Consult our Government Advisory Directorate

Federal government institutions with questions about collection and disclosure of personal information in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak may contact our Government Advisory Directorate. Please send an email providing details of your enquiry to scg-ga@priv.gc.ca.

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