Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cummings Report & Bill 29 - A Neutral Critical Review from an ATIPPA Professional

OK, before I get into  the protest story, I want to sit back and take a serious look at the recommendations of the Cummings report, as well as the steps taken by Government to implement much of the recommendations. Yes, most of the coverage on Bill 29 - an Act to amend the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, has rightly so, focused on a few very controversial regressive steps. However, there are many good things that came out of this process, and as a privacy/access professional. I'd like to offer my thoughts.

Cummings was commissioned to conduct a review of the ATIPP act.  First off, the public consultations were not very well advertised. only 10 people attended a net total of 8 meetings. I didn't even know the meetings had taken place.  This is not good enough to be considered public consultations.

Many executive/administrative recommendations were made in the report that fall outside the scope of the Act. I generally agree with much of what Cummings has done with these matters.  To summarize:

1 - every department should have a policy on routine disclosure of frequently-request public info. this will limit the amount of requests for such info.

2 - increased privacy training for public body staff and development of privacy policies specific to each public body is needed.

3 - public bodies should adopt many information management and information technology best-practices with regards to access and privacy. access coordinators in each public body should be an information management specialist. All bodies serviced by Office of Chief Information Officer should consult said office in the implementation process of these recommendations.

Ironically enough, our provincial government chose to eliminate a civil service position in the OCIO where these three matters were all part of their primary duty. It would be my humble recommendation that they reinstate the position of Senior Policy & Planning Analyst for Information Protection, and reinstate me to that position, given my direct work experience in that field.

moving on..

Cummings recommends more money for opposition parties. not sure how this relates to access and privacy, but I won't disagree with this one!

The fee structure should not be changed - well, minor changes were made. This will make simple request cheaper but complex requests more expensive. I tend to support the fee structure change with a caveat that government do more proactive disclosure to ensure fewer requests are needed.

Reasons why a public body may request an extension of time needed to process requests have been modified.  Personally, I think 30 days is ample time to get a request processed. I recognise that many civil servants who process requests are doing so off the side of their desk, but I feel each public body should have a staff member whose primary job includes access, privacy and other information management duties.  I tend to support the previous time extension rules.

I like the idea that public bodies may dismiss frivolous and vexatious requests; however, I feel appeal to the independent Information and Privacy commissioner, under these grounds, should always be an option. I disagree with the dismissal of requests for this purpose should require an appeal to the supreme court.

The definition of cabinet record is the most contentious matter in this bill.  while I support accepting the definition listed in Management of Information Act, I do not support the loose clause that essentially allows the Clerk to declare almost anything as a Cabinet record.  If this is the way things are going, then an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner should be on the table, as forcing people to go directly to court is overkill.

I am also not supportive of the limitations that have been put on the Auditor General. The AG needs full access to everything and anything in Government, end of story.

I agree that third parties should always be notified when requests for info are made that affects them.

The length of time for which the Privacy commissioner is appointed is 2 years. Cummings recommended this be changed to 5 years. seems the Gov wants to make it easier to get rid of a commissioner who does his job well and becomes a thorn in the side of gov.

Amending Act to become congruent to Personal Health Information Act, in some cases, is also something I support.

Moving onto the Bill:

The previous definition of Personal Information included opinions about said person by others. This has now been changed. I find this to be concerning. Yes, people in general should be allowed to expression opinions about me in a private setting; however, in the context of a government public body, this should not be the case. This opens the door for all sorts of problems. Government can now express discriminatory opinions about people and it will be covered up - including in areas of the hiring process, and in workplace investigations.

Reducing the power of the independent Information and Privacy Commissioner is not good for transparency or accountability. Allowing Public Body Heads to make decisions will essentially turn access and privacy into a political issue, rather than a right. This is not good. If anything, I would have increased the commissioners power.

Seems more appeals will have to initiate at the court. this will make it tougher for many folks to access info or fight for protection of their privacy, due to financial reasons. this is not right at all.

Anyway, those are my brief thoughts for now. I am sure to have more to say in the future.

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