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Global Affairs Canada fails to demonstrate its authority to collect the personal information contained in diplomatic passports

Complaint under the Privacy Act (the Act)

March 29, 2019

  1. The complainant alleged that Global Affairs Canada (GAC) contravenes the collection provisions of the Act when it requests the return of diplomatic passports containing information related to personal travel for the purposes of conducting an administrative investigation. He claims that GAC’s policy and practices require certain employees to use their diplomatic passport exclusively for both personal and work-related travel if travelling abroad; but that returning the diplomatic passport would lead to an improper collection of the personal information by GAC.

Summary of Investigation

  1. The complainant was a GAC employee, who was issued a Government of Canada diplomatic passport and was posted abroad.
  2. The complainant explained that GAC was conducting an administrative investigation and had requested his diplomatic passport as evidence. He added that, in accordance with GAC policy and practices, he had used his diplomatic passport for personal travel while posted abroad, and as such his personal travel information (e.g. visas, border crossing stamps, date of personal travel) was contained therein. GAC did not accept the photocopied pages of his diplomatic passport related to his work-related travel, and insisted that he submit the original diplomatic passport booklet. The complainant refused to provide the diplomatic passport.
  3. GAC submitted that the diplomatic passport is the property of the Government of Canada and can be requested at any time. It stated that, in this instance, GAC had the authority to collect the complainant’s personal travel information related to alleged misconducts. GAC did not provide any information regarding the nature of this particular administrative investigation.
  4. GAC also provided a copy of a Ministerial Instructions issued by the Minister of Foreign Affairs on January 31, 2011, which states in point 3 that:

    When traveling on personal business, travelers must use their regular (blue) passport, except in the following circumstances:

    3.2 In keeping with the principle that a traveler must travel with only one valid Canadian passport, in the event that a traveler completes an official trip immediately followed by a personal trip (or vice-versa), the traveler is authorized to complete the full trip on a special or diplomatic passport;

    3.3 Holders of a special or diplomatic passports who are posted abroad (diplomats and their dependents) are authorized to perform their personal travels with their special or diplomatic passport while on posting.

  5. Our Office made several unsuccessful attempts to obtain additional information from GAC related to its authority to collect the personal information contained in the diplomatic passport that had been used for personal travel. For example, we attempted to query GAC on the nature of the administrative investigation for which the personal travel information was necessary.
  6. GAC did not deny the complainant’s allegation that it requires certain employees to use their diplomatic passport for personal travel, nor was it able or willing to demonstrate to our Office that holders of a diplomatic passport are informed that personal information related to any permissible use of the diplomatic passport for personal travel may be collected.


  1. In making our determination, we considered sections 3 and 4 of the Act.
  2. Section 3 of the Act defines personal information as information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing: information relating to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, marital status, education, medical, criminal or employment history, financial transactions, identifying numbers, fingerprints, blood type, personal opinions, etc.
  3. The diplomatic passport contains the complainant’s name, date of birth, citizenship, etc. It also contains the personal travel history of the complainant in this case. This is personal information as defined in section 3 of the Act.
  4. Section 4 of the Act states that “no personal information shall be collected by a government institution unless it relates directly to an operating program or activity of the institution”.
  5. GAC failed to demonstrate to our Office how the complainant’s personal travel history was linked to, or the subject of, the said investigation. Ultimately, no collection of the complainant’s personal information occurred given that he did not return the diplomatic passport to GAC as it had requested.
  6. That said, given GAC’s deficient cooperation in this investigation, we are unable to confirm that it has the authority to collect the personal travel information contained in the diplomatic passport, as we cannot establish that the collection relates directly to its operating program or activity.
  7. Our Office must therefore conclude that GAC does not have the authority to collect the personal information contained in diplomatic passports.


  1. Accordingly, the complaint is well-founded.


  1. Given the potential systemic nature of this issue and the possible impact on other individuals, specifically users of diplomatic passports, we recommend that GAC take steps to clarify the terms of its policy and practices related to the personal use of diplomatic passports and its privacy implications.
  2. We also recommend that the clarified terms be disseminated and made known to users and individuals whom may be affected by any personal use of the diplomatic passport.
  3. For example, GAC may want to consider advising users of the diplomatic passport – at the same time it advises them of the permissible uses outlined in the Ministerial Instructions – the purpose for which it may collect personal travel information relating to a program or activity.
  4. We request that GAC provide notice to the Privacy Commissioner, within 30 days of the issuance of this Report of Finding, of any actions that GAC has taken, or proposes to take, to implement these recommendations.
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