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Use and disclosure of personal information in telephone directories

PIPEDA Case Summary #2001-8

[Principle 4.3, Schedule1]


Citing several provisions of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, an individual complained that a telecommunications company was:

  1. Using and disclosing customers' personal information without their knowledge and consent by publishing names, addresses, and telephone numbers in the company's white-pages directory and on two Web sites; and
  2. Inappropriately charging customers for opting not to have their information published.

Summary of Investigation

The telecommunications company in question publishes customers' names, addresses, and telephone numbers in its white-pages directory and on its own directory assistance Web site. In accordance with Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC regulations, the company gives the same information to the Bell Canada subsidiary that operates the "Canada 411" Web site. Customers are asked how they wish their personal information to appear in the company's white pages and are given the option of not having their information published. For those who choose non-publication, the company charges fees, in accordance with CRTC regulations. The company also provides list services to selected organizations for a fee, excluding information on non-published customers and customers who ask to be de-listed.

Commissioner's Findings

Issued August 14, 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 telecommunications companies are considered to be 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 the matter of consent, the Commissioner considered relevant the company's questioning of customers regarding how their information should appear in the white-pages directory. He determined that the question itself implies the eventual appearance of the information in publicly available directories. By choosing not to take the option of non-publication, customers implicitly give consent for their personal information to be made available to the public. Moreover, since the information subsequently published in other formats merely reflects what is published in the white-pages directory, it too is considered publicly available information for purposes of the regulations under the Act and may be collected, used, or disclosed without consent. In sum, the Commissioner found that the company did obtain valid consent and was in compliance with regulations on publicly available information.

On the matter of charging fees for non-publication of customers' information, the Commissioner noted that the company had duly applied for and received permission from the CRTC, under Telecom Order 98-109, which states that telecommunications companies can charge no more than $2 per month for non-published telephone service. He founded therefore that the company in question did have authority to charge its monthly fee of $2 for non-publication.

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

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