Glossary of terms related to access to information and privacy

From Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Here is a glossary of the most common terms that you may encounter regarding access to information and the privacy program in the Government of Canada. These are not legal definitions and are for reference only.

View institutions under the letter A View institutions under the letter B View institutions under the letter C View institutions under the letter D View institutions under the letter E View institutions under the letter F View institutions under the letter G View institutions under the letter H View institutions under the letter I View institutions under the letter J View institutions under the letter K View institutions under the letter L View institutions under the letter M View institutions under the letter N View institutions under the letter O View institutions under the letter P View institutions under the letter Q View institutions under the letter R View institutions under the letter S View institutions under the letter T View institutions under the letter U View institutions under the letter V View institutions under the letter W View institutions under the letter X View institutions under the letter Y View institutions under the letter Z

Words starting with the letter A

Access to information request
A request for one or more records that is made under the Access to Information Act.
Access to Information Act
Legislation that provides for a right of access to records under the control of a government institution according to principles that government information should be available to the public, necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific, and decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.
Access to information (ATI) request summary
A description of a completed access to information request. The summaries are published online. A person can informally request a copy of the records that were released.
Administrative purpose
The use of personal information about an individual in a decision-making process that directly affects that individual, as described in a personal information bank. This includes all uses of personal information for verifying and confirming identity and for determining eligibility of individuals for government programs.
Annual report
A report submitted by the head of a government institution to Parliament on the administration of the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act during the previous fiscal year.
ATIP
An acronym for "access to information and privacy."

Words starting with the letter C

Class of personal information
A description of personal information under the control of a government institution that is not intended to be used for an administrative purpose or is not retrievable by a name or other personal identifier, such as unsolicited opinions and general correspondence.
Complainant
An individual who makes a complaint to the Information Commissioner of Canada on any ground outlined in subsection 30(1) of the Access to Information Act or to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada on any ground outlined in subsection 29(1) of the Privacy Act.
Complaint
A matter that is formally referred to the Information Commissioner of Canada on any ground outlined in subsection 30(1) of the Access to Information Act or to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada on any ground outlined in subsection 29(1) of the Privacy Act, for their investigation. Grounds for complaints include concerns relating to the processing of an access to information or personal information request, such as delays, exemptions, exclusions or fees. They also include privacy breaches and other concerns about the handling of personal information by one or more government institutions.
Consistent use
A use of personal information that has a reasonable and direct connection to the original purpose for which the information described in a personal information bank was obtained or compiled. The original purpose and this use are so closely related that the individual would expect that their information could be used for such a purpose, even if the use was not spelled out at the time the information was originally collected.
Control
For the purposes of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, records that are in the physical or legal possession of a government institution are generally considered under its control. This may include copies of records that were shared by original owners or creators of the information outside of the institution. Records under the control of a government institution can be subject to an access to information or personal information request.
Coordinator (access to information and privacy)
An officer designated by the head of a government institution to coordinate activities on their behalf relating to the application of either the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act or both, as well as of related regulations and policies within the institution.

Words starting with the letter D

Delegate
An officer or employee of a government institution who has been delegated to exercise the powers, duties and functions of the head of the institution under either the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act, or both. These powers, duties and functions can be delegated to more than one officer or employee. The access to information and privacy coordinator will often exercise delegated authority.
Designated minister
The minister who has responsibility for the administration of one or more provisions of a particular statute. Under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, the President of the Treasury Board has been designated the minister with primary responsibility for the administration of the Acts, with the Minister of Justice designated the minister responsible for specific matters.
Directive
A mandatory policy instrument that sets out how a government institution shall administer an act.
Duty to assist
A duty established by subsection 4(2.1) of the Access to Information Act, by privacy policy and subject to regulations, for government institutions to make every reasonable effort to assist a requester, to respond to their request accurately and completely, and to provide timely access to records in the format requested without regard for the requester's identity.

Words starting with the letter E

Exclusion
A provision of the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act that establishes that certain types of information are outside the application of the legislation.
Exemption
A provision of the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act that authorizes the head of a government institution to refuse to disclose records that contain certain types of information. Exemptions may be mandatory or discretionary.

Words starting with the letter G

Government institution
For the purposes of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, any department, ministry of state, body, or office listed in Schedule I of the Acts as well as any parent Crown corporation and wholly-owned subsidiary of a Crown corporation within the meaning of section 83 of the Financial Administration Act. These institutions must respect and fulfill all responsibilities provided for in the Acts.
Guideline
A policy instrument that provides guidance, advice or an explanation of requirements or best practices regarding the administration of an act.

Words starting with the letter H

Head of a government institution
For the purpose of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, in the case of a department or ministry of state, the head of the government institution is the minister. In other cases, the head of the institution is the person designated by an Order in Council or, if no such person is designated, the chief executive officer of the institution, whatever their specific title. The head, or their delegate(s), is responsible for exercising all powers, duties and functions related to the application of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act within their institution.

Words starting with the letter I

Implementation Report
A notice issued by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to provide guidance on a particular topic related to the interpretation and application of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act as well as their related policies and other instruments.
Information Commissioner
An Officer of Parliament appointed by the Governor in Council to investigate complaints related to any matter involving access to records under the Access to Information Act.

Words starting with the letter N

Non-administrative purpose
The use of personal information for a purpose that is not related to any decision-making process directly affecting the individual. This includes the use of personal information for research, statistics, and audit and evaluation purposes.

Words starting with the letter P

Personal information
Information that is about an identifiable individual and recorded in any form, as defined in section 3 of the Privacy Act. Examples include information relating to race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion, age, marital status, address, education as well as the medical, criminal, financial or employment histories of an individual. Personal information also includes any identifying number or symbol, such as the social insurance number, assigned to an individual.
Personal information bank (PIB)
A description of personal information under the control of a government institution that is organized and retrievable by an individual's name or by a number, symbol or other element that identifies that individual. The personal information described in the bank has been used, is being used or is available for an administrative purpose. The bank describes how personal information is collected, used, disclosed, retained and/or disposed of in the administration of a government institution's program or activity. There are three types of personal information banks: central, institution-specific and standard.
Personal information request (or Privacy request)
A request made under the Privacy Act by an individual to access to their personal information.
Policy
A mandatory policy instrument that sets out how a government institution shall administer the Act.
Privacy Act
Legislation that protects the privacy of individuals when their personal information is collected, used, disclosed, retained and/or disposed of by government institutions. It also provides individuals a right of access to, and correction of, their personal information held by government institutions.
Privacy Commissioner
An Officer of Parliament appointed by the Governor in Council to investigate complaints related to privacy and personal information requests under the Privacy Act, or complaints made under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. The Commissioner also conducts audits of government institutions regarding their performance in meeting privacy requirements under the Privacy Act.
Privacy impact assessment (PIA)
A process for identifying, assessing and mitigating privacy risks in the administration of government programs or activities. Government institutions are required to develop and maintain privacy impact assessments for all new or substantially modified programs or activities that involve the use of personal information for an administrative purpose. Privacy impact assessments can involve one or more government institutions.
Privacy protocol
Procedures to be followed when using personal information for non-administrative purposes, such as research, statistics, audit and evaluation. These procedures ensure that the individual's personal information is handled in a manner consistent with principles of the Privacy Act.

Words starting with the letter R

Reading room
A facility required by the Access to Information Act where a government institution's manuals can be inspected by the public and where an individual can examine records in person that respond to an access to information or personal information request. One or more locations may be provided by a government institution.
Record
Any documentary material, regardless of medium, under the control of a government institution.
Requester (or Applicant)
A Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or any individual or corporation present in Canada who requests access to a record under the Access to Information Act; a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or individual present in Canada who requests access to their personal information under the Privacy Act.

Words starting with the letter S

Severability
The principle described in section 25 of the Access to Information Act requiring that information be disclosed if it does not contain, or if it can be reasonably severed from, other information that the head of a government institution is authorized or obligated to refuse to disclose under the Act.
Social insurance number (SIN)
A nine-digit number that you need to work in Canada or to have access to government programs and benefits. Under paragraph 3(c) of the Privacy Act, the social insurance number is an identifying number and is therefore considered to be personal information.
Standard
A policy instrument that sets out mandatory operational or technical measures, procedures or practices for how government institutions administer an act.
Standard class of records
The records maintained by most government institutions in support of common internal services. These include records relating to human resources management, materiel management, corporate communications and other administrative services. Standard classes of records are created by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
Standard personal information bank
A type of personal information bank that describes information about members of the public as well as current and former federal employees contained in records created, collected and maintained by most government institutions in support of common internal services. These include personal information relating to human resources management, travel, corporate communications and other administrative services. Standard personal information banks are created by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
Standard privacy impact assessment
A privacy impact assessment that identifies, assesses and mitigates privacy risks of a government-wide program, service or activity.

Words starting with the letter T

Third party
For the purposes of an access to information request, any organization, individual or group of individuals other than the individual who makes the request or the government institution that receives it. This includes private organizations, federal institutions to which the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act do not apply, foreign government institutions as well as provincial or municipal government institutions. Depending on the circumstances, a third party may be entitled to be notified or consulted before a government institution can release information that it received from the third party.
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