Canadian Telcos can’t collect SINs and drivers licence numbers

A decision was recently issued by the Quebec Commission d’Accès à l’information (“CAI”) pursuant to the Act respecting the protection of personal information in the private sector following (“Quebec Private Sector Act”) following a complaint filed against Rogers Communications (“Telco”) pertaining to the collection of personal information. In X. c. Rogers Communications Inc., the plaintiff’s social insurance number (SIN) and driver’s licence number were collected by Rogers in the context of the activation of a cell phone.

Telco required the collection of the plaintiff’s personal information during an application for opening of an account for activation of a cell phone, namely her SIN and her date of birth. Rogers also asked her to present her driver’s licence. Given her refusal to provide the information requested, she was informed that Telco could not proceed to open the account.

Telco explained that when an account is opened, the customer is invited to provide his/her name, address, telephone number and date of birth. In addition, the customer is required to provide two pieces of identification, which he/she may choose from a list including the SIN, driver’s licence number, credit card number or passport number. It specified that no copies are made of the pieces of identification requested to validate a potential customer’s identity. However, the numbers of these IDs are noted in the customer’s file.

This decision is interesting and relevant on several aspects:

1. Confirmation of the customer’s identity

The CAI acknowledges that an organization has the right to verify a customer’s identity for the purchase or supply of goods or services payable in installments. Although an organization may not require the production of specific pieces of identification, such as the driver’s licence or the health insurance card, it nonetheless may ask the customer to provide recognized pieces of identification of his/her choice to confirm his/her identity (see Regroupement des comités logement and Association de locataires du Québec and Corporation des propriétaires immobiliers du Québec, [1995] C.A.I. 370; Julien v. Domaine Laudance, [2003] C.A.I. 77 ; Perreault v. Blondin, [2006] C.A.I. 162 ; and more recently X. and Loca-Meuble and X. and Skyventure MontréalIn the Skyventure decision, the CAI recognized the right to authenticate customers’ identities, but specified that, to do so, it is not necessary to collect the number of the ID presented for this purpose.

According to the CAI, even though an organization may ask to see pieces of identification in order to verify the identity of its customers, it may not collect their number, nor may it keep a copy of these IDs. The organization may note in the customer’s file which of the pieces of identification was presented, but the CAI was not convinced of the necessity of collecting the ID number to identify the customer. Moreover, the CAI mentions that the Quebec Highway Safety Code provides at section 61 para. 2 that the driver’s licence may only be required in special situations. Thus, the CAI concluded that Telco may not oblige an individual to identify himself by means of a driver’s licence.

2. Credit checks, fraud prevention and debt collection

Telco alleged that it was necessary for it to ascertain its customers’ solvency and ability to pay before making a service agreement. It argued that it must therefore proceed with a preliminary credit check for each of its subscribers. For this purpose, it collects the number of the ID of the customer’s choice provided by the customer from among the above-mentioned pieces of identification. Telco alleged that it is generally practical and easy to provide the SIN, the driver’s licence number or a credit card number. It considers that in the absence of reliable pieces of identification, the credit report obtained may turn out to be inaccurate or incomplete, resulting in material financial consequences for Rogers.

In several decisions discussed above (see for example Regroupement des comités logement and Association de locataires du Québec and Corporation des propriétaires immobiliers du Québec, [1995] C.A.I. 370; Julien v. Domaine Laudance, [2003] C.A.I. 77 ; Perreault v. Blondin, [2006] C.A.I. 162), the CAI concluded that only an individual’s name, address, telephone number and date of birth are necessary to perform a credit check.

The CAI considered that an organization may ask its customers to present pieces of identification in order to verify their identity, but that it may not collect the numbers of these IDs, any more than the SIN, to perform identity checks or credit checks.

In addition, the CAI recognizes that the Federal Privacy Commissioner recommends that organizations not record personal information appearing on the ID examined to verify the customer’s identity. Organizations must only compare the name and photo on the ID with the name indicated on the other ID presented. As for the SIN, the Federal Privacy Commissioner recommends limiting collection, use and disclosure to purposes authorized by the PIPEDA and related to income, according to its various guidelines, including its Best Practices for the use of social insurance numbers in the private sector, Photo Identification Guidance, Fact Sheet, September 2007 and Collection of driver’s licence numbers under private sector privacy legislation – A guide for retailers.

Takeaways for Canadian telcos

The CAI ordered Telco to cease collecting and holding the numbers of pieces of identification, including the SIN, presented by customers when opening an account for activation of a cell phone since this personal information is not necessary for the object of the file. It states that a telco may collect the name, address, telephone number and date of birth of its customers and that it may verify the customer’s identify by the presentation of pieces of identification left to the customer’s choice, but it may not collect the number of the ID presented, including the SIN, nor make a copy of that number or piece of ID.

I am currently advising some telcos on that issue and I can confirm that not all Canadian telcos collect SINs and drivers’ licence numbers. Those that still do may wish to modify their privacy practices in light of this recent CAI decision.

The CAI decision is also interesting for issues pertaining to the jurisdiction of the CAI over a complaint filed against a telco, an area of federal jurisdiction. You can read my blog Canadian Telcos and Banks subject to Quebec privacy law for more information on this issue.

This content has been updated on November 2, 2014 at 21 h 25 min.