Attending the recent APRA conference in Washington reminded me of how hot the topic of privacy is for Canadian researchers. Try as we might to focus on other aspects of research in Canada, the conversation would always veer back to issues regarding privacy legislation. It seems that no single issue has had the ability to adversely affect our profession in the way that privacy legislation has. With substantial movement in each province on the privacy front, it is important to sit back and consider how these legislative changes will shape the way we now approach prospect research in Canada.
Each province has some type of legislation that addresses the protection of privacy and right to access for the public sector; and, Alberta is no different. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) act came into effect September 1999. At this time, all universities and colleges had to make adjustments to policies about how they dealt with personal information. At the University of Alberta, we were required to set up policies to address the collection, use, disclosure, retention and security of all personal in nature, including hard copy and electronic formats. When it came to implementation, we had an advantage on a few fronts. First, the University created the Information Privacy Office to coordinate the efforts across campus and give guidance and advice regarding compliance. Another reason that our implementation went smoothly was due to the fact that we followed the Ethics Statement of APRA closely and acknowledged the Donor Bill of Rights.
Now, in the ever evolving world of privacy legislation, the private sector is about to be affected in the same way. We have been anticipating this change for some time; as such, I believe the knowledge we gained from the first implementation has well prepared us to face this change. Now is the time for all non-profits to search out a greater understanding of the act (in progress) and learn how it will affect them so that they can define the policies necessary to ensure compliance. This change is inevitable and if the Province of Alberta does not address the need for this type of legislation, non-profits will fall under federal legislation as of January 1, 2004.
The federal act, known as the Personal Information Protection & Electronic Documents Act (PIPED), addresses how private organizations may collect, use or disclose personal information in the course of commercial activities. The act currently covers federally regulated private sector organizations.
Alberta, by all indications, has decided that instead of falling under the federal act it will create its own legislation to deal with this issue. As long as the provincial legislation is "substantially" similar to PIPED then the organizations, classes of organizations and activities covered will continue to be exempt from enforcement of the provisions of the federal act.
The Government of Alberta feels that a provincial act is the preferred method for dealing with privacy issues in Alberta for a few reasons. First, he government maintains that a provincial act will address the need to strike a balance between the individual's right to the protection of privacy and the need of the organization to conduct business. Also, they believe the complexity of the federal legislation would prove challenging for Alberta businesses to implement , especially small and medium-sized businesses. Finally, they feel it is important to ensure that Albertans will be able to deal with a commissioner who resides in Alberta rather than a federal commissioner in Ottawa.
At first glance, the government has stated the act will provide:
1) A common sense set of rules for the collection and use of personal information.
2) Individual right to access one's own personal information and an ability to request corrections to the information.
3) A response to international trends to deal with privacy.
4) A solution for the bulk of Albertans who demand protection over their personal information.
5) A harmonized legal framework for inter-provincial, national and international trade.
Similar to the process used in the initial attempts to draft FOIPP legislation, several forces have joined together to help guide the government in molding this act. When FOIPP was enacted in September 1999 representatives from all universities and colleges banded together to lobby the government to address several areas of concern. The original draft of the Act was very rigid. It did not allow for the use of public information nor did it make provision for grandfathering of records. Fortunately, with the efforts of a few key individuals, the draft was amended to incorporate a balance between protecting the information we had on our alumni/donors while allowing us to continue our efforts in major gift fund-raising. Currently, members of AFP (both in Calgary and Edmonton) and APRA have joined forces to make sure we have a voice at the table again.
It is good news that some of the same key people who were involved in and affected by FOIPP are involved this time as well. On January 14, 2003 representatives met with Mr. Tom Thackery (Executive Director, Government Services; Government of Alberta) who is responsible for recommending legislation for Privacy in the Province. The participants came away from the meeting feeling "relieved and exhilarated." Mr. Thackery seemed more than willing to listen to the discussions surrounding the interests and concerns of charitable organizations in the province as they relate to privacy legislation affecting fund-raising and philanthropy in general.
He discussed his view that public information is considered to be any accessible source in the public domain. He expressed his opinion that verbal information cannot be regulated. Further, he wanted to be clear that the act must ensure that names will be removed from any list if requested by the individual. Mr. Thackery believes that the government is not interested in hindering the business of private or charitable organizations. He maintains that the act will be straightforward and simple, noting that he government is in favour of a "Made in Alberta" privacy solution.
The group also discussed the possibility of outlining distinctions in the legislation to separate the private and charitable sectors. He asked for the group's help to draft something along these lines. The group stressed the importance of recognizing that all not-for-profits are not the same in regards to size of professional staff and the level of activity.
Finally, the group described the reality of working in a climate governed by professional organizations which requires adherence to a variety of codes of conduct and ethical standards.
Overall, the group was optimistic. The draft is expected within the next month or two. If the draft is favourable, the group will move ahead in supporting the government in its commitment to a "Made in Alberta" solution.