PIPEDA Breach Notification Guidelines

PIPEDA Breach Notification Guidelines

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) regulates businesses that collect, use, and disclose personal information of Canadian residents. Under PIPEDA, businesses must ensure the privacy and confidentiality of personal information and are required to report breaches or leaks that pose a significant risk of harm to individuals. PIPEDA breach notification guidelines are provided below to help businesses meet PIPEDA breach notification requirements.

What Does PIPEDA Consider a Breach?

Under PIPEDA, a breach is defined as “the loss of, unauthorized access to or unauthorized disclosure of personal information resulting from a breach of an organization’s security safeguards that are referred to in clause 4.7 of Schedule 1 of PIPEDA, or from a failure to establish those safeguards.” 

PIPEDA Breach Reporting

PIPEDA breach reporting standards establish guidance for who is responsible for reporting a breach, informing concerned parties, what information must be included in breach reports, and record keeping requirements. 

Who is Responsible for Reporting a Breach?

PIPEDA breach reporting obligations are placed on the organization that is in control of personal information compromised in a breach. While organizations may transfer personal information to a third party for processing, PIPEDA’s accountability principle places responsibility on the “principal organization” even if the breach occurs when the information is with the processor. 

Use this PIPEDA compliance checklist to see you meet PIPEDA requirements! 

When Must a PIPEDA Breach Be Reported?

When a breach of security safeguards poses significant harm to an individual, it must be reported. To determine whether or not harm resulted from a breach, consider the following factors:

  • The sensitivity of the personal information collected and involved in the breach
  • The probability that the personal information could be misused
  • Whether the breach was the result of a cyberattack
  • Whether the data was encrypted or anonymized

Informing Concerned Parties

Breaches that cause significant harm to an individual must be reported to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and affected individuals. Where appropriate, the organization must also inform organizations or government institutions that can “reduce the risk of harm” resulting from the breach. For instance, an organization that suffered a ransomware attack would notify law enforcement.

Incidents can be reported to the OPC using their PIPEDA breach report form, and by submitting the completed form here.

Notification to individuals must be given as soon as reasonably practicable after a breach was determined to have involved real risk of significant harm to the individual. Breach notification must be provided directly to the individual whose information was compromised, except where indirect notification is permissible.

Indirect notification is permitted when:

  • direct notification would be likely to cause further harm to the affected individual;
  • direct notification would be likely to cause undue hardship for the organization; or
  • the organization does not have contact information for the affected individual.

Direct notification must be provided either in person, by phone, mail, email, or other “form of communication that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances.” Indirect notification must be provided in the form of public communication such as online or offline newspaper advertisements, and posting a prominent notice on your website.

What Must Be Included in a PIPEDA Breach Notification?

PIPEDA breach notification requirements impose specific information that must be included in the notice.

The information that must be included in a PIPEDA breach notification include:

  • a description of the circumstances of the breach;
  • the day on which, or period during which, the breach occurred or, if neither is known, the approximate period;
  • a description of the personal information that is the subject of the breach to the extent that the information is known;
  • a description of the steps that the organization has taken to reduce the risk of harm that could result from the breach;
  • a description of the steps that affected individuals could take to reduce the risk of harm that could result from the breach or to mitigate that harm; and
  • contact information that the affected individual can use to obtain further information about the breach.

Keeping PIPEDA Breach Records

PIPEDA compliance requires organizations to keep records of all data breaches of security safeguards for two years regardless of whether the breaches are reported to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. There’s specific information that must be included in breach records to enable the OPC to verify compliance with breach of security safeguards reporting and notification requirements.

Breach records must include:

  • date or estimated date of the breach;
  • general description of the circumstances of the breach;
  • nature of information involved in the breach; and
  • whether or not the breach was reported to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada/individuals were notified.

To ensure that organizations properly assessed the risk of significant harm when determining whether or not the breach was reportable, breach records should include a brief description of breaches that were not reported, and why the organization determined the breach was not reportable.