Certain terms have very specific, defined meanings. Although the definitions vary slightly in each law, we can say that generally, personal information means information about an identifiable person or, put another way, personal information is information that allows the person to be identified.

Therefore, information can be “personal information” even if your name is not included, so long as the information would allow you to be identified, either by itself, or if it was matched with some other information about you.

For example, your home address, or your phone number is your personal information, even if your name is not attached to it. A photograph of the inside of your apartment showing your possessions is your personal information if it can be matched with some other information such as your address or phone number, with the result that the photograph of your possessions (which show your interests and preferences) can be linked to you.

Personal information does not have to be the kind of information that you might expect would be sensitive or private or would ordinarily be kept secret. Information about what school you attend, where you get your hair cut, the kind of cereal you buy or the movies or books you prefer, is your personal information.

Therefore, even if the information is widely known, so long as it is about an identifiable individual, (and is not “business contact information”) it will be “personal information” under these laws.

To be clear then, even without a name attached, personal information can include:

  1. a photograph of you or of something about you
  2. your address
  3. your credit card number, your SIN or Care Card number
  4. genetic information, biometric information
  5. information about your friends, hobbies, talents, or favourite colour
  6. information about where you had lunch, bought your favourite shoes or went on vacation
  7. your age, sex, race, religion, memberships.

“Collection” typically means to get or gather together; “use” generally means use, handle, manage or manipulate and “disclose” generally means to give to another organization or person and includes sharing and selling.

In British Columbia only, employee personal information is a sub-category of personal information. Employee personal information is defined as personal information about an individual that is collected, used or disclosed solely for the purposes reasonably required to establish, manage or terminate an employment relationship between the organization and that individual, but does not include personal information that is not about an individual’s employment.

This roundabout definition is in the law so that an employer can collect, use and disclose personal information about employees for reasonable business purposes without having to get the employee’s consent, which would impose an unnecessary cost on businesses. Under PIPA, an employee includes a volunteer, so the personal information of volunteers is treated the same way as the personal information of employees.