Canada: New Privacy Guidelines For The Use Of Social Media For Background Checks

Given the large amount of potential sources of information about individuals on social media1, it is not surprising that many employers have, or have considered, searching social media sites as part of their background checks on prospective employees and volunteers. Most of us assumed that if someone posted information about themselves online, he or she could not then complain if a prospective employer accessed and used that information when making their hiring decisions.

The Information and Privacy Commissioners in BC and other provinces have now confirmed that this assumption is not correct. They say that just because someone publishes information online about themselves, it doesn't mean that such individuals consent to the use of that information for background checks. Further, even if consent can be implied, privacy laws still apply to the kinds of information that is accessed and collected. In other words, irrespective of whether the information is available online, employers are still subject to privacy laws if they intend to view, collect and use such information.

In October 2011, BC's Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner published Guidelines for Social Media Background Checks. However, before reviewing the highlights of these guidelines, it is useful to review the privacy laws applicable to public sector organizations [Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act ("FOIPPA")], and private companies [Personal Information Protection Act ("PIPA")] regarding the collection of information now that it has been made clear that these laws apply to information from social media sites.

The strictest rules affect public sector organizations. Section 27 of FOIPPA states that all private information must be collected directly from an individual, unless another method is consented to by the individual [sec. 27(a)(i)]. Further, once such information is collected, the employer must inform the individual of that fact [sec. 27(2)]. Because collecting personal information from a social media site is considered "indirect" collection, public bodies must always have an individual's consent to collect personal information from social media sites. Once consent is provided, public sector organizations are also required to collect only such personal information that a reasonable person would consider appropriate or reasonable in the circumstances (sec. 26). For private companies, PIPA permits the collection of personal information without the individual's consent if the collection is reasonably related or necessary for assessing the individual's suitability for the position.

Once public sector organizations and private companies have complied with the above noted provisions of the legislation, they can still run afore of the law, depending on what information is collected. The Guidelines identify the special risks associated with the use of social media sites to collect personal information for prospective employees or volunteers.

  • Collecting inaccurate information: FOIPPA and PIPA require employers to take steps to ensure that personal information they collect is accurate. Information gathered on social media sites may be inaccurate for a number of reasons. It is possible that information collected relates to another person with the same name, is out of date, or was deliberately inaccurate as part of a plan to discredit that individual.
  • Collecting irrelevant or too much information: FOIPPA and PIPA require employers to only gather information that would reasonably be deemed relevant or appropriate. Since information posted on social media sites was not originally intended for prospective employers, organizations will inevitably gather more information than that which fulfills this requirement. Also, due to the nature of some social networking sites, such as FaceBook, in the course of collecting personal information about an individual, employers will often gather personal information about third parties.

The Guidelines then provide tips or practical advice to assist employers who may be considering using social media sites to gather personal information before they start the information gathering process. The following list of tips is copied from the Guidelines.

  1. Recognize that any information collected about individuals is personal information or personal employee information and is subject to privacy laws, whether or not the information is publicly available online or whether it is online but subject to limited access as a result of privacy settings or other restrictions.
  2. Conduct a privacy impact assessment including an assessment of the risks associated with your use of social media as a component of background checks. When conducting this assessment, public bodies and organizations should:
    1. find out what privacy law applies and review it, ensuring that there is authority to collect and use personal information;
    2. identify the purposes for using social media to collect personal information;
    3. determine whether the identified purposes for the collection and use of personal information are authorized;
    4. consider and assess other, less intrusive, measures that meet the same purposes;
    5. identify the types and amounts of personal information likely to be collected in the course of a social media background check, including collateral personal information about other people that may be inadvertently collected as a result of the social media background check;
    6. identify the risks associated with the collection and use of this personal information, including risks resulting from actions taken based on inaccurate information;
    7. ensure that the appropriate policies, procedures and controls are in place to address the risks related to the collection, use, disclosure, retention, accuracy and protection of personal information;
    8. if the collection is authorized, notify the individual that you will be performing a social media background check and tell them what you will be checking and what the legal authority is for collecting it; and
    9. be prepared to provide access to the information you collected and used to make a decision about an employee or volunteer.

Finally, employers should remember that if an individual suspects that their personal information has been collected, they have a right to ask for copies of information collected, and if they suspect that personal information has been improperly collected, they may complain to the Information and Privacy Officer.


1 Social Media captures a number of different kinds of information sources including social networking sites, blogs, 'micro-blogging' sites such as Twitter, and file sharing sites for photographs and videos such as YouTube.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.