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Statement from the Information and Privacy Commissioner about Alberta's Privacy Laws and GSAs

June 18, 2019

Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton issued the following statement today regarding the disclosure of a student’s participation in a gay-straight alliance (GSA):

“For some time, I have been following with interest the public debate about disclosing a student’s participation in a GSA to parents. There have been many perspectives in this debate and various interpretations – or misinterpretations – about how Alberta’s privacy laws apply to a student’s participation in a GSA.

On June 5, the Minister of Education commented in the Legislative Assembly, ‘What is in the privacy legislation that will govern this is FOIP and PIPA, and that actually supersedes, so there will be privacy legislation that will ensure that the private information of a student is safeguarded.’

In light of these comments, I felt it was important that my office lend its voice to the public debate as the regulator of Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP Act) and Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). A public or private school must determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether the FOIP Act or PIPA permits a particular disclosure of personal information. This is why I am issuing an advisory today to assist school boards and private schools in determining the legal considerations when drafting policies or making decisions about disclosing a student’s participation in a school club, including GSAs.

The focus on privacy rights in this public debate is a positive development to raise awareness. Privacy rights, however, are most effective when individuals know how to exercise them.

Students must understand that privacy laws exist and that they have rights under those laws. They must also know that there are mechanisms in place through my office to review situations when they believe their privacy rights have been infringed. This is certainly important in the context of GSAs, but equally essential when students navigate their parallel online worlds.

At the core of privacy laws is the ability to control one’s own information. It is often difficult to know what this means until you or someone you know is personally affected. It is my hope that with this advisory, school boards and private schools will better understand their obligations to student privacy in this regard.”

The "Advisory on Disclosing a Student’s Participation in a School Club" is available on the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s (OIPC) website at www.oipc.ab.ca. The purpose of the document is to assist school boards, private schools and their employees in identifying their authority to disclose a student’s participation in a GSA or other voluntary student organization, if considering doing so.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta works independently of government to uphold the access and privacy rights of all Albertans.

Contact
Scott Sibbald
Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner
(780) 422-9048