New on the Podcast: Information Laundering

As we learned in the first episode of Data Subjects, BC’s Freedom of Information laws were created in order to ensure that public records belong to the public, which is a fundamental principle to our democracy.

Citizens in a democratic nation must have a right of access to information about their government in order to make informed choices. But prior to 1992, we didn’t have these rights in BC. And now, we’re at risk of losing them again due to something called information laundering.

This episode is about a loophole in BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allows public bodies to create subsidiary companies that are not subject to BC’s Freedom of Information laws.

First, we learn about how BC Ferries and BC Hydro used subsidiary companies with disastrous consequences in the 1990s during the ‘Fast Ferries’ and ‘Hydrogate’ scandals. Then, we hear from Larry Kuehn, of the BC Teachers’ Federation, and find out how BC school boards have misused subsidiary companies.

And finally, we hear from Stanley Tromp, independent journalist, and learn about his experience requesting information about one of UBC’s subsidiary companies, the UBC Properties Trust, and its consequences for health and safety on campus.

If you’d like to see information laundering as a thing of the past, please sign our petition and encourage the BC government to keep their campaign promise of protecting information and privacy rights in BC.

The time for information rights reform is here!

We are asking the BC Government to keep their promise.

Sign the petition for FIPPA reform today!

The BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) was meant to help create a culture of openness and transparency within the government.

Today, however, we frequently see public bodies failing to create records or destroying them in order to avoid the possibility of release. We are getting more calls and hearing more stories from concerned citizens who are not able to get the information they are looking for or who have found their privacy rights breached by a public body with little or no recourse.

Over the past year, we have tried to work with government on improving FIPPA. One year later, there has been no action and we do not have any sign that the government will move forward on legislative change.

What are the issues?

We’re calling for:

  • A legislated duty to document under FIPPA
  • Bringing public bodies’ subsidiaries under FIPPA
  • Implement Mandatory Privacy Breach Notification
  • Expand the oversight of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in the areas of Privacy

What can you do?

Sign the petition for FIPPA reform today! Along with our partners at the BC Civil Liberties Association, we’re asking you to add your voice to our call for government to make the legislative changes they promised.

By signing the petition, you’ll be directly telling Premier John Horgan, Minister Jinny Sims, and Attorney General David Eby that information and privacy rights are important to you.

We are Recognizing The Tyee for Outstanding Reporting Related to Surveillance and Privacy

On June 27th, 2019, at our Annual General Meeting, we’ll be presenting The Tyee with an award that recognizes their outstanding reporting related to surveillance and privacy. (More information about our AGM and registration.)

As a nonprofit society, the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association holds an Annual General Meeting. We like to make our AGMs engaging by inviting a guest speaker to give a talk related to information and privacy rights. This year, we are excited to welcome Bryan Carney, Director of Web Production at The Tyee, as our AGM guest speaker. Bryan’s talk is entitled ‘Accountability Cannot Be Automated’.

FIPA’s Directors and Staff thought that this would be a good opportunity to recognize The Tyee for its consistent attention to stories related to surveillance and privacy. Investigative reporting and insightful writing by Tyee contributors have broadened and informed public debates about a range of important privacy rights issues, including these 2018-2019 examples:

The last few years have seen a welcome across-the-board increase in media attention to surveillance and privacy, driven by, among other things, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, increasing public concerns about Big Data and the power of social media, the ongoing expansion of government surveillance powers, and a steady churn of massive data breaches. There have also been some positive shifts in the tone and scope of media coverage, and we have seen an increased willingness to pose big questions and examine structural and systemic problems.

Despite these developments, many media organizations still struggle with the task of connecting specific surveillance and privacy issues to both the lived experiences of individuals and broader trends like surveillance capitalism.

This is why we are so impressed with The Tyee’s work on these topics. The Tyee consistently publishes detailed and informative stories that examine the everyday dimensions of surveillance practices, address their implications, and pose vital questions about accountability and the adequacy of legal and institutional privacy protections. And, while The Tyee does provide reactive coverage and follow-up reporting when important privacy rights issues are broken by other media organizations, it is also tenaciously proactive, posing questions, following leads, and using FOI and Privacy requests to further original reporting. We would not know what we know about TransLink data sharing, RCMP social media snooping, or the BC connection to the Facebook scandal without the work of Tyee contributors and editors.

So, on behalf of FIPA, kudos to The Tyee for continued excellence in reporting on these vital topics. I am glad that Bryan Carney will be at our AGM to accept this award on behalf of The Tyee, as he has had a hand in many Tyee stories on privacy issues. To The Tyee’s staff, editors, and contributors, I hope that this award serves as recognition of a job well done and an affirmation of the value of continuing to invest in the ‘privacy beat’. We are at a pivotal moment in the history of privacy rights, and we have yet to adequately grapple with the challenges posed by Big Data, surveillance capitalism, the Internet of Things, and the security state. We need more detailed, forward-thinking journalism in this area, and other media organizations would do well to follow in The Tyee’s footsteps.

By Mike Larsen (President of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association)

On the podcast: The History of FIPPA (Part 2)

This episode continues our story on the history of BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by exploring what’s gone wrong since the Act was passed.

We begin in the year 1996, when a new NDP government under Premier Glen Clark is taking office in BC. You’ll hear about why former Premier Clark limited the budget for the administration of the Act and how court decisions weakened the Act’s original spirit and intent.

Then, we’ll take a look at some legislative amendments that could help realign the Act with its original spirit and intent. This episode features more interviews with all of the experts featured in the first episode, including FIPA co-founders, former and current BC Information and Privacy Commissioners, and many more.