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 used.
Understand your legal rights
In British Columbia, your information and privacy rights are protected by two main laws.
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (called FIPPA) gives you the right to see many records kept by the provincial government and other public bodies — including records of your personal information. Public bodies include provincial government ministries, local governments, public schools, hospitals and health authorities, local police forces, and colleges and universities. They also include bodies that govern professions in the province, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (which governs doctors) and the Law Society of BC (which governs lawyers).
Both FIPPA and PIPA protect your right to privacy by regulating how public bodies and private organizations collect, use, and give out (or disclose) personal information. Public bodies and organizations can use personal information only for the purposes they collect it for, unless they get your consent to use it for another reason. Organizations and public bodies must ensure they don’t give out personal information without proper authorization.
In some cases, it may be quick and easy to access records held by provincial government ministries or other public bodies, or to access your personal information held by a private organization. An email or a phone call may be enough to get the information.
But if there’s no other way of getting the information you want, you can send a written request to the organization. The organization might have a department or person that handles information requests. If they do, you can address your request to them. If not, you can just send your request to the organization. It is the responsibility of the organization to have procedures and training in place to handle information requests.
FIPPA gives public bodies 30 business days to respond to your request for information. They can’t charge you any fees for your own personal information, but they can charge you fees for finding, copying, retrieving, and producing records not related to your personal information. 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 your own “employee personal information”. This is personal information collected, used or disclosed for the purposes reasonably required to establish, manage or end an employment relationship. But they can charge a small fee to access your other personal information — information that is not employee personal information.
Under FIPPA, 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 Ombudsman, or certain information if its release or 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 a public body or private organization refuses your request, or if you’re not satisfied with its response, you can ask BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner to review the response. There’s a time limit of 30 business days to make this request to the Commissioner.
The Commissioner is independent of government. The Commissioner reviews the decision and can order a public body or private organization to release information that FIPPA or PIPA gives you the right to see. See the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s website at oipc.bc.ca 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) in your personal information. If the public body refuses your request, FIPPA requires them to mark your information with the correction you requested. You can also ask a private organization to correct any inaccurate personal information. If you are not happy with the decision of the public body or organization, you can ask the Information and 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 about how it collects, uses, or discloses your personal information. You should give the public body or organization a reasonable amount of time to respond.
If that doesn’t help, you can file a complaint with the Information and Privacy Commissioner. The Commissioner’s website at oipc.bc.ca explains the process to make a complaint.
The Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for BC oversees and enforces British Columbia’s access to information and privacy laws.
Telephone: 250-387-5629 in Victoria
Toll-free: Call Enquiry BC at 1-800-663-7867
The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and defending freedom of information and privacy rights.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed in February 2019
Time to read: 5 minutes