Access to personal information or records collected and retained by private sector organizations is a key part of the right to privacy. Individuals whose information is subject to the laws’ protections have a right to know what information about them an organization holds and what uses and disclosures it has made of that information. The access right is subject to certain limitations including if the relevant information cannot be separated from information about another person, if it involves national security, law enforcement or confidential information about the organization that holds it, if it is subject to solicitor-client privilege, or if it was collected in the course of an investigation or litigation.
Access rights in the public sector follow the same principles as apply to private sector privacy rights but extend to all records, not just those involving the requestor’s personal information. The rights are subject to similar but more extensive exceptions than those relating to the private sector access rights, reflecting concerns of government for confidentiality of its internal deliberations, security and relations with other governments. In fact, personal information about third parties constitutes a significant exception to the general public sector access rule. As well, an important exception is provided to protect the confidentiality of third-party information submitted to government as confidential, or which could prejudice the third party’s competitive position or contractual relations, or could result in undue loss or gain to any person.
Persons making requests for access under the public sector laws must follow the stipulated procedure which entails a prescribed protocol for response, as well as an appeal procedure that ultimately may escalate to the relevant regulatory authority (e.g. provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner).