B.C. privacy matter grinds on

As fast as a government bureaucracy. That's the speed at which a complaint before B.C.'s privacy commission appears to be moving. Last September, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commission (OIPC) in Victoria received a complaint about a telemarketing campaign...

As fast as a government bureaucracy. That’s the speed at which a complaint before B.C.’s privacy commission appears to be moving.

Last September, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commission (OIPC) in Victoria received a complaint about a telemarketing campaign targeting members of the alumni associations of two B.C. universities (see ‘Privacy nabob probes alumni associations,’ Strategy DirectResponse, Oct. 11, 1999). Now, nearly six months later, the groundwork for the investigation is only just being laid.

At issue are whether the schools, which provide contact information on graduates to third-party marketing firms, make students aware of their intention to provide alumni lists for such purposes, whether they clearly ask for the graduates’ permission to do so, and whether they give them an opportunity to decline.

‘Because it’s such a big issue with (the universities), we want specific answers to some questions,’ explains Charmaine Lowe, communications director for the OIPC. ‘So in conjunction with the commissioner, we’ve drafted a list of questions about the process and sent them to the four main universities.’ The schools include the University of Victoria (UVIC), the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of Northern B.C. (UNBC).

The issue is a sensitive one, says Lowe, because, in an era of government cutbacks, the universities are increasingly dependent on the money they raise by selling grads’ personal information.

‘The answers to these questions should tell us how they raise the money through this campaign,’ says Lowe. ‘At this time, all the portfolio officer investigating the issue could tell me is the commission hopes to have a draft of final recommendations by the end of March.’

The issue surfaced when a graduate complained that universities were supplying alumni association members’ personal information to Meloche Monnex. The company, part of the Canada Trust group, was contacting graduates in a bid to sell them household insurance packages.

The OIPC spent the first several weeks determining whether it even had jurisdiction over the schools’ alumni associations.

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