‘Tis the Season to Protect Your Privacy, Caution Canadian Privacy Commissioners

December 15, 2008
It may be the season of giving, but be cautious when it comes to giving out your personal information to retailers, warn the federal, Alberta and B.C. privacy commissioners.

OTTAWA, December 15, 2008 – As the holiday shopping season ramps up, Canadians need to be smart about safeguarding their personal information, say three of Canada’s privacy guardians.

“During many retail transactions, consumers often hand over a lot more than just money– many shoppers share personal information, such as their name, phone number or driver’s licence number,” says Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart. ”We want people to know that there are risks to sharing this type of information, and that in most cases they do have the right to say ‘no’.”

Personal information is of great value to marketers and data brokers, not to mention fraudsters and thieves who can use it to assume false identities and commit crimes that can have serious financial and social implications for the unfortunate victims.

“The collection and recording of driver’s licenses during retail transactions, in particular, is troubling for privacy,” says Frank Work, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, who along with the federal Privacy Commissioner and the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner recently released new guidance to help retailers determine whether it is appropriate to collect driver’s licence numbers.

“Most businesses and organizations recognize the importance of protecting the personal information of their customers, but we see data breaches occurring every day, so once you share your information, you can never really be certain what will happen to it.” says B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner, David Loukidelis. “We are the best guardians of our own information, so we all need to think carefully about what and how much information we allow others to have, to whom we give it, and for what purposes.”

All three privacy Commissioners agree that a little bit of caution can go a long way to limiting the risks. As such, they have worked together to develop the following tips to help shoppers protect their privacy during the holiday season and throughout the year:

Privacy Tips for Holiday Shoppers

Prevent – Minimize the amount of personal information you carry with you. For example, do not carry around your Social Insurance Number card or birth certificate. These sensitive numbers are extremely valuable to identity thieves.

Protect – When you enter your debit card personal identification number (PIN) at the cash register, cover the keypad with your hand. Choose a PIN that can’t be easily guessed, and don’t write it down and leave it in your wallet or any other obvious place.

Pay attention – When using debit or credit cards, watch to ensure the cashier doesn’t “double swipe” – run your card through the cash register and then an illegal card reader capable of capturing your personal information. Check receipts to ensure that they do not reveal your complete credit card number; if they do, be sure to store the receipt securely and then destroy it when it is no longer needed.

Practise safe shopping – Be cautious when shopping online. Take time to check out a service before you buy by talking to other users, looking for comments online and calling the customer service line. Only send personal or financial information using a secure transaction system, which is usually indicated by an icon of a lock or unbroken key at the bottom right corner of the screen or a Web site address that begins with https://. Also, ensure your own computer is secure. Check to see that firewall, anti-virus and anti-spy protections, for example, are up-to-date.

Probe – Retailers are eager to collect information about you and your spending habits to inform their marketing activities, but before you divulge your personal information, such as your name, address, phone number or postal code, question how this information will be used. You do not have to provide personal information that is not necessary for a transaction, so if you aren’t comfortable with the explanation you are given, you can decline. Also, be aware that stores can only ask for the minimum information necessary to prevent fraud when handling returns, and in most cases they should not be recording particularly sensitive information, such as a driver’s licence number. See our guidance document for retailers collecting driver’s licences if you would like more information.

Prudence – Check credit card and bank statements as soon as they arrive so that any problems can be reported immediately. Take note of when your credit card bill is supposed to arrive in order to ensure an identity thief hasn’t redirected your mail.

In Canada, retail activities are subject to privacy legislation. The federal legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), applies to commercial activities in all provinces, except those which have enacted their own legislation. British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec all have their own privacy legislation covering the retail sector.


T’was just weeks before Christmas, and all through the land privacy commissioners were taking a stand.

While shoppers were lined up to purchase their treasures,
The commissioners were urging them to take privacy measures.

Protecting your personal information should be top of mind,
To ensure ID thieves don’t leave you in a bind.

Amidst the crowds and noise and the Christmas clatter,

You are reminded that ID theft and fraud is a very serious matter.

If possible purchase your goods with cash, and make sure your receipts don’t end up in the trash.

Shred receipts, sales records and other personal information,
And ask plenty of questions when asked to produce identification.

Clear your mailbox every day, carry a minimum amount of ID,
And keep your SIN to yourself, to avoid financial agony.

The Commissioners have tips for retailers as well,
Tips to protect the information of their Clientele.

If you don’t need it, don’t collect it the commissioners advise,
Protecting your customer’s information is prudent and wise.

Shred what you don’t need and protect the rest,
And make sure point of sale terminals are visible to guests.

Keep all information away from prying eyes, So your customers don’t get a nasty surprise.

From BC, Alberta and Ottawa too,
We hope these tips will keep personal information from bidding adieu.

From all who provide privacy oversight,
One last reminder…make sure your credit card is always in sight.