Requesting access to personal information is not the same as obtaining access. While Access My Info (“AMI”) helps you create a request it doesn’t help explain whatever response you happen to get back, if you get one. The following discussion should help you get a better sense of what you might expect from a response.
Your personal information
Assuming that the company you’re requesting information from abides by Canadian law, you should get a response to your request for access.
What you get back will depend on what you requested. It will also depend on what the organization defines as personal information, and other definitions such as collection and disclosure. In theory, organizations should refer to legal decisions on which to base such definitions, but in practice this can vary.
The data you get back could be provided to you in the form of a digital spreadsheet, screenshots from corporate records management systems, redacted records, and/or other formats. It could be emailed to you or sent via the post.
First and foremost, exercising your right of access to your personal information may help bring you some clarity about how your data is used. This clarity can either be a comprehensive picture of the data that a given institution holds, uses, and shares about you, answers to some questions you might have about data handling practices, or in the worst scenario, clarity that the institution you’re dealing with in noncompliant with privacy laws. Learning exactly what data is collected and how it is used can also help to clarify notoriously hard-to-read privacy policies and terms of service. Bringing concrete facts to bear on vague policies can help to better understand an institution’s practices.
Structured data is easier to deal with
The format of the data which you receive directly affects its ease of reuse. If the data is highly structured in a spreadsheet or some equivalent format, you can use software to analyze the data and perhaps understand more about what sort of insights are possible from this data. Unfortunately, many organizations do not as of yet provide personal information in such usable formats and instead provide it as letters, pdfs, or screenshots. By specifically requesting your data in a structured format you can help encourage organizations to develop internal procedures for providing access to your personal information in a more useful format.