Transportation company collects, discloses passengers' personal information
It was alleged that a transportation company's sales agents were:
- asking for date of birth and citizenship as well as name from individuals making train bookings by phone or in person for the Toronto-to-New York run; and
- disclosing this information to United States Customs (USC) and the United States Naturalization and Immigration Service (USNIS).
Summary of Investigation
The Canadian company confirmed that the practice in question has been taking place since December 2000, by agreement among the company, the U.S. transportation company, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, and USC/USNIS The purpose is to minimize delays at the Canada/U.S. border. The personal information thus collected is stored in the company's reservation computer system and deleted if the individual does not eventually purchase the ticket. If the passenger does purchase the ticket, his or her name, date of birth, and citizenship are printed on a manifest, which is then faxed to USC/USNIS and a copy given to the service manager on board the train. The service manager destroys the manifest shortly after the trip is completed.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada determined that the sales agents, on written instruction from the company, had been representing the practice as a requirement for passengers on the Toronto-to-New York run.
The company asked the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada for instructions on an acceptable resolution to the problem. The Office advised that it issue to its sales agents a clear directive to the effect that passengers' provision of date of birth and citizenship must be represented as voluntary and that agents may, after booking a ticket, ask customers whether they would be willing to provide this information in order to facilitate customs clearance at the border.
On receiving a copy of such a directive sent by the company to its sales agents, the Office informed the company that the incident file would be closed, subject to the Office's continued monitoring of sales agents' booking practices. The Office also advised that at some point the company send its sales agents a follow-up note clarifying in stronger terms that they are not to collect personal information at the time of booking without the informed consent of the individual.
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