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Bank accused of inappropriately demanding SIN to open child's account

PIPEDA Case Summary #2003-132

[Principles 4.3 and 4.3.3, Schedule 1]


A customer complained that her bank
(1) had improperly refused to open an account in her child's name unless the child's social insurance number (SIN) was provided; and
(2) had unnecessarily made and retained on file photocopies of her own identification cards without her consent.

Summary of Investigation

When the complainant tried to open an account in her 12-year-old daughter's name, the customer service representative told her she could not do so without providing her daughter's SIN for income-reporting purposes. The daughter did not yet have a SIN.

When the complainant opted instead to open an account in her own name for her daughter, the customer service representative asked for two pieces of identification. The complainant promptly produced her driver's licence and her health insurance card, which the representative immediately took away and photocopied. She explained that photocopies of customer identification were kept on file for purposes of account security. The complainant expressed her objection to the practice, but could not dissuade the representative from putting the photocopies on file. The complainant was of the opinion that it was improper for a bank not only to photocopy customers' identification, but even to take down identification numbers for filing.

Banks are required under the Income Tax Regulations to collect customers' SINs for income-reporting purposes in respect of interest-bearing accounts. However, clause 2 of the related Circular 82-2R2 provides an exception for the case of a child under 18 with annual income of less than $2500. The complainant confirmed that her daughter's income was negligible.

Banks are required to obtain identification and record identification numbers from new customers, but not from established customers opening new accounts. However, the bank maintained that it had asked the complainant for personal identification, despite the fact that she was a longstanding account-holder, because her file had turned out to be lacking in identification records. Moreover, according to bank policy, it was left to the discretion of individual branch managers whether to photocopy identification documents or simply to record numbers from the documents.

Commissioner's Findings

Issued March 6, 2003

Jurisdiction: As of January 1, 2001, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act applies to any federal work, undertaking, or business. The Commissioner has jurisdiction in this case because a bank is a federal work, undertaking, or business as defined in the Act.

Application: Principle 4.3 states that the knowledge and consent of the individual are required for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, except where inappropriate. Principle 4.3.3 states that an organization must not, as a condition of the supply of a product or service, require an individual to consent to the collection, use, or disclosure of information beyond that required to fulfil the explicitly specified and legitimate purposes.

On the first count of the complaint, the Commissioner determined that the exemption provided in clause 2 of Circular 82-2R2 should have applied in this case. He found therefore that, in demanding that a SIN be provided as a condition for opening a child's account, the bank had contravened Principle 4.3.3.

On the second count, the Commissioner observed that it was not unreasonable for the bank to have taken down the numbers from the complainant's identification cards by way of updating the information on her file, nor did the practice of making and retaining photocopies of identification cards in itself contravene the Act. However, given that the photocopies comprised more information than was strictly required for the bank's identification purposes, he determined that the individual's consent to such collection was essential. In this case, the bank attendant not only had not asked for consent to the photocopying, but had even persisted in retaining the copies on file above the complainant's objection. He found therefore that the bank had been in contravention Principle 4.3.

The Commissioner concluded that the complaint was well-founded.

Further Considerations

The Commissioner was pleased to note that in response to the complaint the bank had removed and destroyed the photocopies that had previously been included in the complainant's file.

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