Privacy commissioner says gov't can use your personal info

Spec tax can collect info

B.C.’s Ministry of Finance can collect, use and disclose taxpayers’ personal information under the Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act, the province’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has ruled.

“I am satisfied that the property owner’s name, address, date of birth, social insurance number and email address relate to and are necessary for the program of administering the tax,” adjudicator Erika Syrotuck said in her ruling.

The opposition BC Liberals and other critics have panned the tax for prying into people’s private information, namely by requiring a SIN on declaration forms. The tax required all property owners in specified areas to file a declaration. That declaration is used to determine if the tax should be paid.

And, concerns about the tax and its implications for privacy impacts led the commissioner’s office to open an inquiry after receiving complaints the ministry had exceeded its authority by collecting SINs, as well as letters of concern about collection, use and disclosure of names, addresses, dates of birth and email addresses.

All agreed it was personal information.

At issue was whether or not the tax is a program of the government as defined under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Syrotuck found the speculation tax is a program as it is an organized implementation of a law passed by the legislature.

The ministry argued the collection of the information was needed to verify information about individuals to administer the legislation. SIN collection, the ministry said, was needed, as it is the primary identifier of Canadians and needed to calculate tax owing.

“The administrator says the absence of a SIN is valuable because it identifies that a person does not pay taxes in Canada,” Syrotuck said in her Oct. 18 decision. “Any anomalies of the SIN can alert the administrator to further investigate that declaration.”

The ministry argued email address collection was necessary to provide confirmation of declaration receipt confirmation.

The complainants, however, said the government had said more than 99 per cent of British Columbians would not have to pay the tax yet 100 per cent of British Columbians had to file declarations.

Complainants said collection of SINs is not allowed under federal law.

The ministry argued SINs are collected to verify other incomes and is subject to the FIPPA.

Syrotuck found more than 150 federal and provincial laws mentions SINs.

“The province is not required to get federal approval to use the SIN,” Syrotuck wrote.

She said a SIN identifies a person’s B.C. residency. She said it conforms to the speculation tax’s definition of a resident in British Columbia.

“I cannot see what other reasonable means would be available to the Ministry to verify that a person is a ‘resident of British Columbia’ for the purpose of claiming an exemption, the lower tax rate or a tax credit under the SVTA.”

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