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Freedom of information and protection of privacy

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Increasingly, organizations — both private and public — are collecting your personal information. Learn about the laws allowing you to access this information and limiting how it can be collected, used, and disclosed.

Common questions

In BC, your privacy rights are protected by two main laws.

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act applies to public organizations, like local governments, schools, and hospitals. It also applies to bodies that govern professions in the province, like the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (which governs doctors) and the Law Society of BC (which governs lawyers). Here’s a list of the professional governing bodies this law covers.

The second one, the Personal Information Protection Act, covers data about you collected, used, and disclosed by private organizations, unincorporated associations, trade unions, trusts, or non-profits. This includes stores, hotels, banks, and doctors in private practice.

These two laws regulate how your personal information is allowed to be collected, used and disclosed. They also set out your rights around consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of your data, knowing how much of your data is out there, and what’s being done with it.

For a closer look, visit the BC privacy commissioner’s website.

In some cases, a simple phone call or email directly to the organization that has your information will work.

But if that route proves unsuccessful, you can send a written request. The organization will have a department or person that handles such queries. If they don’t, you can send your request to the organization’s general address. It’s their responsibility to have a procedure in place to deal with these requests and make a reasonable effort to assist you.

For example, if you want to see records on an ICBC claim, you could send a written request to the information and privacy branch of ICBC. ICBC offers guidance on how to make such a request.

Here's another example. If you want access to information about how your local gym collects, uses, and discloses your personal information, you can send a written request to the gym’s privacy officer, or to the gym’s general contact address.

The BC privacy commissioner’s website provides template letters you can use. As well, many organizations have their own templates and internal procedures. If they do, this is a good place to start.

Under the law, public bodies have 30 business days to respond to your request for information. They can’t charge you for a request that relates to your own personal information. But they can charge you fees for finding, copying, retrieving, and producing records about anything not related to your personal information if it takes more than three hours. (You can ask them to waive the fees if you can’t afford them, or if the information is in the public interest.)

Private organizations also have 30 business days to respond to your request. They can’t charge you a fee for a request that relates to your “employee personal information.” This is personal information collected, used or disclosed to establish, manage or end an employment relationship. But, just like public bodies, they can charge a small fee to access information that isn’t employee personal information.

You may not be able to get certain records, such as Cabinet records, someone else’s personal information, court files, current work files of the Auditor General or Ombudsperson, or certain information if its disclosure would harm private business interests. You may also not be able to see information if its disclosure would harm a law enforcement matter, or harm people or public safety.

If you’re asking for information from a public body, you may ask for certain information to be “severed” from the record. This means you can access the information, but the sections you aren’t entitled to see are blacked out (or “redacted”).

If either a public body or private organization refuses your request for information — or if you’re not satisfied with its response — you can ask BC’s information and privacy commissioner to review the response. You have up to 30 business days to do this after you receive a response.

The commissioner is independent of the government. They review the decision and can order information to be released — so long as it’s information the law gives you the right to see.

See the privacy commissioner’s website for how to ask for a review.

An organization must make reasonable efforts to ensure your personal information is accurate and complete.

You can ask a public body to correct any factual error or omission (but not opinions or judgments). If they refuse your request, the law requires them to mark your information with the correction you requested.

You can also ask a private organization to correct any inaccurate personal information. Again, if the organization refuses your request, the law requires them to mark your information with the correction you requested.

If you aren’t happy with the decision of the public body or organization upon a correction request, your next step is to ask the privacy commissioner to review the decision.

If you disagree with how your personal information is being managed, you should first complain directly to the public body or organization. Give them a reasonable amount of time to respond.

If that doesn’t resolve the issue, you can file a complaint with BC’s privacy commissioner. The commissioner’s website explains the process to make a complaint.

Who can help

Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner logo
Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner
Oversees BC's laws relating to privacy and access to information.
Call 1-800-663-7867Send an emailVisit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in April 2022
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Courtenay Catlin, Alexander Holburn and Christopher Morcom, Pacific Law Group

Courtenay Catlin, Alexander Holburn
Christopher Morcom, Pacific Law Group

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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