FIPA was the first witness to appear before the Special Legislative Committee reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in Vancouver, BC, and we had lots of material for the committee to consider. You can read our entire submission here, in the “Policy Submissions and Letters” section of our website.
The Act is reviewed every six years, and the last review took place in 2010. Some of our concerns have been raised before past Committees, but new and important issues have arisen as well.
One such issue is the need for a legal duty to document—in short, the need for government to create records of its key actions and decisions. FIPA has raised this in past submissions, but the situation is now a crisis. BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has also recommended the creation of such a duty in several reports over the past two years, but the BC government has done nothing.
In addition to this, FIPA is calling for penalties for those who flagrantly block access rights or who fail to properly document government decisions. Seven other provinces and territories (as well as the Canadian government) have introduced penalties for document tampering into their FOI acts, and it is time for BC to do the same.
Earlier this year we were shocked to hear a former political staffer of BC’s Minister of Transportation allege that he was ordered to delete dozens of emails relating to the Highway of Tears consultation, which were being requested under the Act. The Commissioner has released her investigation of this case, but it is still not clear what, if any, penalty those responsible for these deletions could face.
Again in this submission, we highlighted the government’s to ensure subsidiaries of public bodies in the education sector are covered by FOI. These bodies include school boards, colleges and universities. The previous review Committee supported this recommendation, and back in 2011 the Commissioner wrote to the government looking for action. To date, nothing has happened.
We also raised concerns about the increasing number of provincial laws that override FIPPA. There are 43 laws that contain provisions that take precedence over all or part of the information and privacy law, with yet another one (Bill 39) set to join them.
We commented on how we have seen public bodies misuse a number of exceptions under the Act to limit access rights. In particular we raised concerns about the increasingly broad interpretation of what constitutes “policy advice”, how public bodies are using lawyers and legal privilege to keep information secret, and the blocking of FOI requests about the BC Health Ministry firings through use of the RCMP’s non-investigation.
On the privacy side, we pointed out the risk posed by the TPP to BC’s domestic data storage requirements, and the need to find out exactly what is in the agreement to make sure our sensitive personal information isn’t going to be shipped out of the country.
We also raised the issue of government contracting private sector bodies to provide services, and the confusion about whether it is FIPPA (which governs the public sector) or the private sector privacy law, the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) that applies. We also repeated out call for mandatory data breach notification under both the public and private sector laws.
The Committee is scheduled to report to the Legislature in May 2016.
Don’t forget: This is also your opportunity to send the Special Committee your views on potential improvements to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The deadline is Friday January 29, 2016, and details on how to participate are available on the Committee’s website. (Please feel free to copy from FIPA’s submission if you agree with what we have to say, or to simply let the Committee know you agree with our submission.)