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Privacy Adjudicator Orders Incorrect Personal Information to be Deleted
December 23, 2003

Section 29 of the BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FOIPPA”) provides that should an individual believe his personal information in the possession of a public body is incorrect, he may request the head of the public body to correct the information.

Recently, a delegate of the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner determined that the Ministry of Human Resources (the “Ministry”) fell short of its obligations under section 29 when it merely annotated, and did not entirely delete, computer entries which were incorrectly placed on an individual’s file.

The case arose when an individual became aware that inaccurate information had been recorded in his file when he received disability records he had requested from the Ministry. Upon identifying the errors, he wrote to the Ministry and requested the removal of three entries from his file. The Ministry responded by deleting a portion of each of the entries and adding a comment to the remainder. It also added a fourth entry to explain that the comments on the first entries were placed on the wrong file. The Ministry acknowledged that the entries related to another person and were entered into the complainant’s file in error.

The Adjudicator found that, in the circumstances of the case, there was no apparent need to retain the annotations. The Ministry had not disclosed the incorrect entries to anyone, and there was no indication that any decision had been based on the incorrect information. Further, there was no evidence that the deletion of the entries would result in the permanent loss of personal information belonging to any other individual.

This decision is significant for public employers as it clarifies a public body’s obligations under section 29 of the FOIPPA. It is also relevant to private sector employers who will become subject to the Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”) as of January 1, 2004. Section 24 of PIPA allows an individual to request an organization to correct an error or omission in personal information about the individual which is being held by the organization. Because the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner will administer both FOIPPA and PIPA, this decision provides guidance on how private sector employers should respond to requests for the correction of personal information.

Ministry of Human Resources, Order 03-38 of the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, October 23, 2003 (James Burrow, Adjudicator)