Thursday, January 12, 2006

Privacy is in the eye of the beholder

If you were looking for evidence that some people take privacy pretty seriously, look no further than the situation that has befallen Cheryl Gallant, a Conservative candidate for Member of Parliament for Renfew-Nipissing-Pembrooke. A short while ago, I blogged about a fuss that has been kicked up after her constituency office sent birthday cards to constituency residents. It appeared that the only place that the MP's staffers could have gotten the citizens' birthdays was from passport applications processed through her office. At least two people were upset then (see: The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Birthday Cards lead to investigation by the Privacy Commissioner).

The story continues: The candidate began her remarks at a recent debate by wishing everyone there a happy birthday. (Some in the audience booed the reference, though they might have been Liberal plants.) Her remarks have been taken as being a bit flippant. - Election - Gallant vows privacy probe

Asked if constituents' privacy was a joking matter, she said people have been complaining they didn't get a card, so she thought she'd simply send greetings to everyone at once.

On Monday, Gallant said, the number of people calling her office requesting cards crashed the office's phone system.

She intends to conduct a probe and said that although her office is not covered under the jurisdiction of the privacy commissioner, they've always conducted business as if it was.

"If one person can get so upset and make such a hullabaloo, we want to ensure no one else's feelings are hurt," she said.

"What we did was a courtesy, a gesture of kindness."

Deep River resident Leslie White, who has no affiliation to any political party, said her husband and mother both received birthday cards from Gallant last month. Both had recently had passports processed through Gallant's office. Other constituents have come forward with similar stories, including a 19-year-old man. Gallant couldn't explain how he came to get a card, but said they are sent out on request and most people are happy to get one.

"In the five years I've been a member of Parliament, two days into this election was the first time I had ever received a complaint about receiving a birthday card," Gallant said. "So I almost wonder if somebody gave us the referral and knew that she didn't like it and that it would put her off her rocker, so to speak."

Privacy is an emotional issue. Some people are very sensitive and are not shy about going to the press when they feel they've been "violated". What might have appeared to be a gesture of kindness on the part of the sender may be a very creepy experience for the recipient of the gesture. Anyone dealing with personal information or thinking about it has to keep in mind that privacy is a very sensitive issue for a lot of people and you should look at your proposed actions through the eyes of your most privacy sensitive customer. If it'll upset them, it probably is not worth doing since the fallout often consumes your energy and detracts from whatever beneficial effect you might have hoped for.

Technorati tags: Privacy :: Passport :: Politics :: Canada

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