A bank charged fees to process requests for personal information

PIPEDA Case Summary #2004-283

(Principle 4.9.4)

Complaint

An individual complained that a bank charged fees to process requests for personal information.

Summary of Investigation

In response to a personal information request, a bank charged the individual a fee of $25 for this service. The bank justified its policy by stating that processing such requests incurs equipment and personnel costs. It also believed that the $25 fee helps reduce abusive requests by customers who request their personal information to avoid paying other fees to obtain these documents. Following the completion of the investigation, the bank informed us that its policy had been changed, and that the fee for such a request had been reduced to $5.

Findings

Issued October 21, 2004

Application : Principle 4.9.4 stipulates that an organization shall respond to an individual's request within a reasonable time and at minimal or no cost to the individual.

The Assistant Commissioner found the bank's practice of charging flat fees for requests for information, even before determining the type of request, contradicts the spirit of the Act. In her opinion, an individual is entitled to request his own personal information, and fees may not be used to discourage such requests. The Assistant Commissioner believes that an organization should consider charging fees for processing a request only when the request is exceptional, and then only at minimal cost. The organization should then notify the individual of the cost and proceed only with the individual's consent.

The Assistant Commissioner concluded that the complaint was well-founded.

Further Considerations

The Assistant Commissioner appreciated that, in response to the request, no fee was charged to the individual who filed the complaint.

The Assistant Commissioner recommended that the bank cease charging $5 flat fees for requests for information, and also recommended that the bank amend its privacy policy and information request form accordingly.

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