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New policy protects your privacy

Since the College began, the privacy of our members has been sacrosanct. Now, we have an official policy to prove it.

by Doug Wilson

At its last meeting Council approved a privacy policy for the College that brings us into line with federal standards. (There is no corresponding provincial legislation.)

Although our work is not commercial and isn't subject to the provisions of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) we believe the principles that underlie PIPEDA apply to the College in its unique role as a regulator.

In regulating Ontario's teaching profession, we routinely collect, use and disclose personal information. The new policy governs the appropriate release of that information.

The privacy policy describes the data we collect, how we use it and the circumstances under which members can access information the College keeps about them.

"The new policy sets out in black and white what the safeguards are."

It enables members to redress errors and assures that we keep their personal data in confidence and treat it with the same respect as we do members themselves.

The College now has 198,000 members in good standing. But we have member files for twice that many. Since the College began in 1997, we've copied more than four million documents to member files. We also inherited Ministry of Education files for teachers going back to the turn of the previous century. By law, we have to keep these records on file for 80 years.

The College only collects information required by legal regulation/bylaw and, as a member, you're obliged to keep us informed of any changes.

Your name, qualifications and College membership number are public and are not considered personal. Your date of birth, Social Insurance Number, telephone number, address and marital status are.

Even though we are duty-bound by the Ontario College of Teachers Act to protect members' confidentiality, our privacy policy addresses specific principles regarding accountability, consent, accuracy, limiting use, disclosure, retention and safeguards.

Like other regulatory bodies that represent the province's nurses, doctors, dental surgeons, lawyers, chiropodists and certified general accountants, the College will soon be regarded as an investigative body under federal law. This will enable us to fully investigate allegations of inappropriate conduct.

The College has always been very careful about our members' records. The new policy sets out in black and white what the safeguards are and how you can access your own personal information.

Members can access information the College has on file by completing and submitting a form intended for this purpose, available on our web site.

We have set the fee for document requests as low as we possibly can while still covering costs, which are otherwise borne by all members. We will also do our best to answer requests within 30 days.

"The College ensures that any personal information ... is securely stored."

One of the first things members ask about in relation to their records is transcripts. We won't provide transcripts to another institution or third party without your written consent. The same applies to any of your personal information.

The College ensures that any personal information in its possession is securely stored. Access is restricted to authorized personnel only and we shred any personal information we no longer require. Staff who contravene secrecy requirements can face fines of up to $25,000.

In short, our new privacy policy affirms existing practices. And it provides further proof that ours is an accountable profession that deserves the privilege to self-regulate. ps

You can find the College's privacy policy at www.oct.ca About the College Voluntary Privacy Code.