Privacy & Freedom of Expression (Part 2): Who is a “journalist” anyway?

In our previous post (Privacy & Freedom of Expression: Alberta Court Says Privacy Law is Unconstitutional), we discussed the recent Alberta decision that struck down portions of a provincial privacy law (the Personal Information Protection Act), because of the way it limited protections for organizations other than “pure journalists”. Let me put this another way: collection and use of personal information is regulated by PIPA; in that Act, if you collect personal information for “journalistic purposes” and no other purposes, then you would be exempt from the regulations set out in PIPA. It’s like a get-out-of-jail card for journalists. The hitch is that the collection of personal info has to be “journalistic purposes” and no other purposes. However the court in United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 v. Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2011 ABQB 415 (CanLII) said that is an infringement of the right to free expression for all those organizations who aren’t “pure journalists” – that is, organizations who might collect personal info for some purpose other than journalism. The Supreme Court of Canada in its 2009 decision of Grant v. Torstar Corp. (2009 SCC 61), defined “journalist” broadly to include bloggers and anyone “publishing material of public interest in any medium”.  So is the effect of these two decisions to create a loophole for anyone to collect personal information so long as they are “publishing material of public interest”? Anyone with an internet connection can set up a blog, Facebook page or Twitter account (or all three) in about 5 minutes, so the barriers to entry to qualify as a “journalist” and start publishing personal information appear low. It appears we have a pretty big hole in Alberta’s privacy laws.   Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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