In 2019, the Alberta and Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioners (each an “IPC” and together the “IPCs”) were presented with the same question: do blocked Twitter handles amount to personal information?
Despite the application of similar provincial, public-sector privacy legislation, the two offices diverged in their responses. While the Alberta IPC determined in Order F2019-02 that there was insufficient evidence to establish a “personal dimension” in the Twitter handles and consequently ordered the information disclosed, the Ontario IPC in Order PO-3997 found it reasonable to expect that individuals could be identified from the information and upheld the institution’s decision to withhold it.
The circumstances in each case were similar. A public institution (Alberta Education and the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, respectively) received an access request for a list of Twitter accounts that had been blocked by the institution. Applying the mandatory personal privacy exemption in their respective province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FIPPA”), the institutions withheld responsive information from the requestor on the basis that its disclosure would reveal personal information about the Twitter account holders. The institutions’ decisions were appealed to the IPCs.