FIPA Weighs in on Privacy & Open Courts

FIPA highlighted the importance of both the right to privacy and the open court principle in our submission to a consultation the Court Services Online (CSO) system, which was held by the Chief Judge of the BC Provincial Court of BC.

The open court principle is fundamental in a democratic society, as it allows citizens to scrutinize the workings of the court to ensure the rule of law is being applied. It requires the courts—along with their records and proceedings—to be open to the public (with certain limited exceptions).

However, by putting court records online—especially non-conviction information from criminal cases—the Court found that employers and landlords were doing informal criminal record checks on potential employees and tenants. There have also been instances where people have experienced a great deal of pain and suffering as a result of information contained in online court records.

This builds on principles set out in an earlier submission about criminal background checks, which informed the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s investigation report on the question.

In short, our recommendations are as follows:

  • People involved in Provincial Court criminal proceedings should be provided with accessible, easily understood information about what types of information about them will be made available online, and what they can do to control that information before they take part in any proceedings.
  • Peace Bonds should not be made available on CSO. If the Court decides to make them available, they should only the available for the life of the Peace Bond, and initials should be used instead of names.
  • To avoid undermining the existing system of police information checks, non-conviction information should not be made available on CSO.
  • The Court should consult with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner before posting new types of records online, in order to produce a document akin to a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) for internal use.

Find FIPA’s full submission here, in the “Policy Submissions and Letters” section of our website.

Read more from the October 2015 Bulletin »