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Unsolicited e-mail from an Internet service provider

PIPEDA Case Summary #2001-2

[Principle 4.3, Schedule 1]


A customer complained that her Internet service provider (ISP) was using her personal information, namely her e-mail address, without her consent by sending unsolicited e-mail notices to her.

Summary of Investigation

The complainant had received several unsolicited e-mail notices from her ISP about its services. At first she complained directly to the ISP, but was not satisfied with the company's suggestion that she simply reconfigure her browser so as to route the notices directly to a bulk-mail or trash-bin folder. Her position was that the onus should not be on the user to filter unsolicited e-mail notices from the ISP. The company's position was that it had a right to send such messages under the terms and conditions of its subscriber agreement, which contains a consent clause.

Since the initial one-year subscription had been a gift from a friend, the complainant had not personally considered these terms and conditions at the start of her service, but had subsequently been presented with them on renewing her subscription after a year. The complainant did renew her subscription with the same company even though her complaint remained unresolved at the time.

Commissioner's Findings

Issued July 3, 2001

Jurisdiction: As of January 1, 2001, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act applies to federal works, undertakings, or businesses. The Commissioner had jurisdiction in this case because Internet service providers are federal works, undertakings, or businesses, as defined in the Act.

Application: Principle 4.3, Schedule 1, states that the knowledge and consent of the individual are required for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, except where inappropriate.

On reviewing the subscriber agreement of the ISP in question, the Commissioner was satisfied that the company's practice of sending periodic e-mail notices to customers was clearly outlined in the agreement. Hence, he considered it reasonable that customers would expect to receive such notices from time to time. Moreover, he determined that the complainant had consented to the practice on renewing her subscription. He found that in this case the ISP had not contravened Principle 4.3.

The Commissioner concluded therefore that the complaint was not well-founded.

Further Considerations

The Commissioner informed the complainant that he considered the ISP's initial proposal for resolving her concern to have been reasonable.

He also commented: "The e-mail notices are in keeping with the purposes for which consent to use the e-mail address was originally obtained, that is, to enable efficient ISP service."

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