Asking "why" is a powerful deterrent to over
collection and, as a recent Alberta case demonstrates, can be a
powerful check on "over disclosure".
F2013-12, the issue for the Office of the Information and
Privacy Commissioner of Alberta was whether the entirety of an
accident report created from information collected from the driver
of one vehicle should be automatically and routinely disclosed by
the police to the other driver involved in the accident.
The form established by the Registrar for the accident report
collects the driver's name, address, date of birth, gender,
home phone number, work phone number, and operator's
The case for disclosure looked strong:
The Alberta Traffic Safety Act requires drivers who
are involved in an accident to complete an accident report with the
The form of accident report is prescribed by the Registrar of
The police are required to collect the accident report.
If requested, a driver is required to disclose to the police or
anyone sustaining loss or injury, the driver's name, address,
operator's licence, name and address of the registered owner of
the vehicle, licence plate of the vehicle, and the financial
responsibility card issued in respect of the vehicle.
The police are permitted to provide the Registrar with a copy
of the accident report.
The police are permitted to release information in the accident
report to a person if the person may be liable to pay damages.
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy
Act permitted disclosure of personal information for a purpose
in accordance with a law that authorizes or requires disclosure,
but only to the extent necessary to carry out the purpose in a
The Adjudicator agreed that in theory disclosure of an accident
report was authorized by law. However, the disclosure provision was
permissive – that is, the police had discretion to
So, why did the police exercise the discretion to disclose the
entirety of the report? The Adjudicator didn't receive a good
answer. It seems it was the practice of the police to do so. But
the drivers in this case had not asked for each other's
information. Even had they done so, the Traffic Safety Act
did not require disclosure of the drivers' birth dates or
telephone numbers. Moreover, no party requested a copy of the
The disclosure was gratuitous in order that the drivers need not
ask for copies of the report and in order to ensure that the
drivers meet their obligations to one another. In the result, the
Adjudicator ordered the police to cease disclosing more information
than was necessary for that more limited purpose – such as
name, address and operator's licence.
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