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Even a public record should be protected

An individual received an envelope, by courier and addressed to him, containing the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) appeal documents of another individual. He believed that the other individual must have received his own appeal information in error.

Our investigation into this matter confirmed these fears. The other individual had indeed received the complainant's appeal information from HRDC. The mix-up was the result of a lack of attention when the documents were inserted in the envelopes to be sent out.

Section 8 of the Privacy Act limits how Government institutions may disclose personal information. In essence, institutions may not disclose personal information to third parties without the consent of the person to whom the information relates, unless one of the permitted disclosures set out in section 8(2) of the Act applies.

HRDC explained that the information about the complainant that was disclosed consisted of documents that had been filed at the Federal Court and thus were part of a public record. Since section 69(2) of the Privacy Act states that section 8 does not apply to personal information that is publicly available, HRDC contended that it had not contravened the Act by sending out the information to the wrong individuals by mistake.

The former Commissioner disagreed because the complainant's information was not disclosed from a public record. The fact that it could be found in a public record does not negate the fact that HRDC disclosed the complainant's information to someone who had no need to know. On that basis, the former Commissioner concluded that the complaint was well-founded.

As a result of the complaint, HRDC apologized to the individuals, re-sent to them the information that had been misdirected and revised its mailing procedures to minimize the chances of a reoccurrence.

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