| The archival appraisal of records containing personal information: A RAMP study with guidelines |
|2. Records containing personal information: definitions, characteristics, and special categories|
11. Personal information is any information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any format. The Privacy Act of Canada, to cite one example for general guidance, gives an extended definition of personal information to include the following: information relating to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, or marital status; the educational, medical, criminal, and employment history or status of the individual; financial transactions in which the individual is involved; any identifying number, symbol, or code assigned to the individual; address, fingerprints, or blood type of the individual; personal opinions and views of the individual (with certain narrow exceptions regarding grants and awards); correspondence sent to a government agency by the individual "that is implicitly or explicitly of a private or confidential nature" and replies to that correspondence which would reveal the contents of the original correspondence; the views and opinions of another person about the individual; and the name of the individual where it appears in a general context the disclosure of which would implicitly reveal information about the individual.2 From another, more general perspective, personal information includes inquiries or complaints or observations received from an individual about any government programme, information on law enforcement cases or about any transactions of the individual with the state for social or other benefit programmes, statistical or computerized information about the individuals and files on current or former government employees.3
12. The above personal information can appear in many types of records. These include applications, declarations, inquiries and complaints, appeals, requests, claims, reports, contracts, lists, registers, rolls, awards, subsidies, grants, invoices, certificates, loans, payments, examinations, questionnaires, hearings, agreements, wills, leases, licences and permits, patents' registrations, passports, allowances, and many, many others.4 These types of records are usually designed forms, but their function can be expressed in letters and memoranda as well, all of which are usually aggregated in case files. It is the role of the records manager to identify, describe, and protect personal information records in accordance with the privacy act of the jurisdiction involved and with good records management practices.
13. Personal information records are created in many contexts. While listing all these would not be useful, the following are the main categories identified in a RAMP study which dealt with the issue: civil status and affiliation (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, adoptions); health (doctors' records as well as related hospital, social security, home care, and drug-use records); wealth and income (taxation, banking, investments, wages and salaries); crime and punishment (while judgements are public, all case file information of process, proceedings, some types of evidence, prison duration, amnesties, and pardons are restricted for long periods in most countries); employment records (personnel files, also student and certain client records); personal opinions, especially those advanced under explicit or implicit promise of confidentiality; basic statistical information (censuses, surveys); and police records (in many forms and considered in most countries the most sensitive type of personal information).5