June 24 2011 - Can corporate information be personal?
Earlier this year in AT&T v. the Federal Communications Commission the U.S. Supreme Court found that the personal privacy exemption under the federal Freedom of Information Act does not apply to corporations. This decision was cited in the media for the proposition that corporations do not enjoy privacy rights.
Although the fact that corporations cannot exempt information under freedom of information legislation seems obvious on its face, the issue is more complicated than some may think.
In Canada, a corporation is a form of legal person who enjoys many of the legal rights afforded to other persons; though, privacy is not one of them. PIPEDA, for example, is clear that it applies to personal information, which includes information "about an identifiable individual". However, although corporations themselves may not be protected by privacy legislation, there are circumstances where information about a corporation may also be personal information about an identifiable individual for the purposes of Canadian law.
This issue of PrivacyScan reviews a number of findings where corporate information has been found to be personal information under Canadian access to information legislation, and considers the extent to which private sector legislation may apply to corporate information as well.