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Time Limit Complaints

Under the Privacy Act, Canadians have a right of access to their personal information held by Government institutions and, by law, institutions must respond within 30 days after the request is received. Institutions can, however, extend that time limit to a maximum of an additional 30 days, but only under two specific circumstances: if meeting the 30-day time limit would unreasonably interfere with the institution's operations, or if consultations are required which cannot reasonably completed within that time.

The number of complaints related to time limits being exceeded by federal institutions for providing personal information to citizens increased to 541 this year, compared to the 428 that were reported for the previous fiscal year. We closed 381 of these complaints, of which 302 were well-founded.

There were more complaints about the personal information-handling practices of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) than any other federal Government institution. Of the 177 complaints against CSC that we completed, 159 were well-founded. Although CSC increased its staff and streamlined its procedures, a delay problem in responding to requests for personal information continues.

The number of time limit complaints against two institutions dropped significantly in comparison to last year, whereas those against four others increased:

Canada Customs and Revenue Agency: down from 85 to 31
Human Resources Development Canada: down from 57 to 16
Correctional Service Canada: up from 125 to 233
Royal Canadian Mounted Police: up from 16 to 71
Department of National Defence: up from 35 to 58
Citizenship and Immigration Canada: up from 40 to 49

One factor that continues to hamper the ability of institutions to respond to requests within the prescribed time limits is the complexity of processing audio and videotapes.

Institutions sometimes record interviews conducted for administrative or criminal investigations. Since the Privacy Act applies to personal information that is "recorded in any form," individuals can ask for copies of their information on those tapes. It is a time-consuming process to listen or view tapes and then to identify and sever the information that requesters are not entitled to receive, often because it constitutes personal information about other individuals. The Department of National Defence is one of the organizations that records interviews, and it has recently acquired new equipment in an attempt to simplify the process of reviewing and severing information on tape.

Requests for voluminous investigation files also account for some delays in responding in a timely manner.

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