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Ottawa, July 18, 2001 - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, today sent the following letter to Air Canada with regard to complaints received by this office:
Dear Ms. Sénécal:
As you have already been informed by officials of my Office, I have received a number of inquiries and complaints concerning a brochure Air Canada recently distributed to its Aeroplan members entitled, "All About your Privacy". I have also received queries from the media as a result of concerns raised by a number of individuals who are in receipt of this brochure.
Because this brochure has been widely distributed and because the media has asked me for my views on this matter, I should inform you at the outset that I intend to make this letter public later today, in the interest of openness and transparency.
Turning to the issue itself, I have reviewed the brochure which explains to Aeroplan members five circumstances under which personal information may be collected and/or disclosed unless the member expressly indicates to Air Canada that the member does not agree. In all circumstances, the onus rests with the member to inform Air Canada of the desire to opt out. On the face of it, I consider the first three circumstances to be ones that members would more or less normally expect from the Aeroplan program. Providing information to Aeroplan partners so that they can inform members of various promotions and exclusive products would seem to be something that a member would routinely expect to happen.
However, the last two circumstances about the collection, use and disclosure of members' personal information - including financial information -- obtained from and disclosed to external sources are entirely different matters. I would doubt very much that members would expect Air Canada to collect and disclose some of the information suggested in the brochure as part of its routine business practice.
One of the primary principles of the PIPED Act is the requirement for knowledge and consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. Principle 4.3 deals with forms of consent. I would draw your attention particularly to principles 4.3.6 through 4.3.7, which make clear that the appropriate form and way of consent vary depending on the nature and sensitivity of the information. The types of information specified in the last two circumstances would certainly be, in my view, sensitive information. Therefore, on the face of it and pending results of my investigation, I am concerned that the collection, use and disclosure of this type of information would appear to require positive opt-in consent. Personal financial information is, in my view, particularly sensitive information. As well, strictly on the information presented in the brochure, I believe that any privacy advocate would question whether the collection, use and disclosure of this type of information would pass the reasonable person test.
I am also troubled by the possibility of a four-month time lag from the time the member refuses to give consent before Air Canada can implement the member's request to opt out.
While I cannot, of course, pre-judge this matter before I have completed my investigation on this issue, I would be remiss if I did not raise my concerns at the outset. Should I ultimately determine that the collection and disclosure of personal information is contrary to the PIPED Act, Air Canada might well already have caused irreparable damage to individual privacy rights.
I have therefore respectfully requested that Air Canada suspend its activities in this regard pending the outcome of my investigation. In response, Mr. Peter Donolo, Air Canada's Senior Vice-President of Corporate Affairs and Government Relations, has now informed me that Air Canada has not yet collected or processed any of the types of information described in the last two headings, and that it will not do so pending the outcome of my investigation. He has also told me that Air Canada will not send out any more of these brochures. Mr. Donolo has further undertaken that Air Canada will work co-opreratively with my Office following completion of my investigation to ensure that all of its activities in this regard are in full compliance with the PIPED Act.
I very much appreciate these undertakings and Air Canada's co-operation.
Privacy Commissioner of Canada
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Tel.: (613) 995-0103
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