Modernizing Canada’s Privacy Act – Learn more about the Privacy Act

On this page

What is the Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act is a key piece of Canada’s overall legal framework for protecting privacy. It is federal legislation focused on the protection of personal information held by the federal government and federal public-sector institutions.

The Privacy Act applies to approximately 265 government institutions, including the federal government institutions listed in the Schedule to the Act, and Crown corporations and their wholly-owned subsidiaries. These institutions include federal agencies, departments, offices, national councils, agents of parliament, port authorities, museums and more.

The Privacy Act is just one of the number of Canadian laws meant to protect privacy interests. More information on privacy laws in Canada is available here.

How does the Privacy Act affect you?

Whether you are a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident, or an individual present in Canada, the Privacy Act regulates how your personal information is held by federal government institutions. The Act gives you certain rights, such as the right to request access to your personal information held by federal institutions and to request its correction.

Federal institutions can only collect personal information that is directly related to an operating program or activity. Under the Privacy Act, federal institutions can only use or disclose your personal information for the purpose for which it was originally collected or for a use consistent with that purpose, unless you provide your consent. Institutions can disclose personal information without your consent under certain limited exceptions, such as in accordance with another Act of Parliament or regulation.

Below are some examples of how the Privacy Act relates to how your personal information may be collected, used, shared and disclosed by the federal government.

Paying your taxes

When you file your tax return, you provide information about yourself to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to ensure that the right amount of income tax is collected from you. You provide personal information, such as your marital status, the number of children in your care, your banking information and home address. The CRA collects information from you about your employment income, investment income, and other benefits you receive.

The CRA also receives information about you from other sources, such as information from a T-4 slip. The CRA can also verify the information you provide against other information it receives to ensure your return is accurate.

You may notice that your tax return asks if some of your personal information can be shared with Elections Canada. This helps Elections Canada maintain the National Register of Electors. When it is time to vote, you will receive a voter information card that tells you where, when, and the ways to vote. In this instance, the CRA will share this information with Elections Canada only if you provide your consent.

Collecting your Old Age Security Pension

The Old Age Security (OAS) pension is a monthly benefit payable to seniors aged 65 and older who meet the legal status and residence requirements.

In 2013, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) introduced an automatic enrolment regime that eliminates the need for many seniors to apply for OAS benefits. Automatic enrolment was expanded to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) in 2017. This measure reduces the burden for seniors to complete additional applications.

In order to enrol a person automatically for the OAS pension, ESDC uses information already provided to the department, or that has been obtained from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), to identify Canadians that will be eligible to receive the OAS pension and be annually assessed for GIS entitlement. This includes information on CPP/QPP contributions and benefits, historical tax filing information, and information from the Social Insurance Register.

The Income Tax Act specifically allows the CRA to disclose personal information to ESDC in order to administer the Old Age Security Act.

Returning from a trip abroad

When flying back to Canada from a trip abroad, you are required to complete an E-311 Traveller Declaration Card and provide identifying information about yourself, such as your name, date of birth and home address. You also provide information about how long you were outside of Canada, and whether you are bringing back anything that needs to be declared.

While the primary purpose of collecting this information is for the use of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), such as determining whether travellers will need to pay duties and tax or undergo additional inspection, it can also be used to help ensure the integrity of other government programs. For example, some of the information collected is shared with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to help administer the Employment Insurance (EI) program. In this instance, CBSA discloses personal information with ESDC in accordance with the Customs Act.