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.

BC FIPA Submissions on Review of Freedom of Information and Privacy Act

BC FIPA presented its submissions to the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) BC FIPA makes 20 recommendations for improving FIPPA which touch on multiple issues of concern.

Regarding freedom of information, there are two sides to a single existential coin. In order for the Act to have any relevance, on one side there must be an obligation to create records, and on the other side, records must not be destroyed without proper procedures being followed.

The issue of delay has long been identified as a problem with the Act and its administration, most recently by the Commissioner and by FIPA in studies done in 2009. Fees have also been used to delay or block release under the Act, or to discourage requesters.

There is also a need to prevent what we call ‘information laundering’. This involves public bodies hiding behind private contractors or corporations fully controlled by public bodies to avoid scrutiny of how they spend public funds for public purposes. A recent BC Supreme Court decision has made this problem into an emergency.

BC is far more accommodating to government secrecy than other provinces because of its courts’ interpretation of what constitutes information that would reveal cabinet confidences. Government has been working consistently to expand this interpretation.

The use of the exception for advice and recommendations under s.13 of the Act has become ever more prevalent and must be brought back within the scope the legislature originally intended.

Finally, the ability to release information in the public interest must be clarified. The current interpretation of this section is such that almost no information meets the standard, and we have some alternatives for this committee to consider.

On the privacy side, we have a number of concerns. The government’s almost unlimited ability to do what it wants with personal information within its control has to be restrained. New technology means that government’s ability to data match and data mine are no longer subject to technical constraints. We need legal protections that are currently missing from FOIPPA to keep this from happening.

There is now a gap between the protections enjoyed under the Personal Information Protection Act and FOIPPA, and that gap must be closed. In particular,the definitions of “consistent use” “collection” and disclosure” are too broad. In particular, section 34 should be amended to provide that the purpose of a use or disclosure of personal information is a consistent purpose only if a person might reasonably have expected such a use or disclosure.

Read the full submission (pdf).