Striking the Balance between Privacy Interests and Commercial Use - SCC Denies Leave in Alberta Licence Plate Case

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Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal in the case Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. Leon's Furniture Limited. At issue was whether Leon's store policy, of recording the driver’s licence numbers and vehicle licence plate numbers of individuals picking up furniture, contravened Alberta's private sector privacy statute.  Leon's had instituted the policy in order to deter, prevent, and detect fraud.

As a result of the Supreme Court's ruling, the decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal stands. The majority of the Court of Appeal found that licence plate numbers are not “personal information” about an individual under Alberta's Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA).  Although the majority accepted that driver’s licences are "personal information" under PIPA, it cautioned against placing blanket restrictions on their use.  The majority recognized that the protection of privacy interests, while important, must be balanced against legitimate commercial uses of personal information. It went on to rule that the collection of personal information by a business must only be "reasonable" - a business need not show that it adopted the "best" or "least intrusive" approaches.  The majority accepted that recording of driver's licence numbers was reasonable in the circumstances.

To read a more detailed discussion of the Court of Appeal decision, see Significant Privacy Law Decision from the Alberta Court of Appeal.

This decision has very important implications for businesses, in particular businesses in the retail sector.

Geoff Hall and Kara Smyth of McCarthy Tétrault acted as counsel for the successful respondent, Leon's Furniture Limited.

commercial use driver's licence fraud leave to apeal licence plate number personal information Personal Information Protection Act privacy store policy Supreme Court of Canada



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