Privacy Commissioner may seek out personal emails in ethnic scandal
Janet Brown, CKNW. 3/18/2013
Potentially more trouble for the BC Liberals.
The so-called "ethnic strategy" fallout continues with BC's Information and Privacy Commissioner launching an investigation.
Elizabeth Denham says she'll hold a preliminary investigation into the ethnic strategy, including alleged information- sharing between public servants and the BC Liberal Party.
Denham says her office will review all relevant records and meet with parties involved in order to determine if a "formal" investigation is needed.
She also wants to know if personal e-mail accounts were used in an effort to evade access to information laws.
She's warning public servants that personal e-mail is accessible if used for making public policy.
Public employees’ personal email accounts aren’t private: privacy commissioner
Mar 18, 2013., Business in Vancouver,Work-related email sent or received by public employees from their personal email accounts is covered by Freedom of Information laws, according to British Columbia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.
“The citizens of British Columbia expect accountability from public bodies in their actions as well as their information practices,” Elizabeth Denham wrote in a memo published today.
“One important way for public bodies to demonstrate this accountability is to create an accurate record of actions in a manner that preserves records of enduring value. When employees of public bodies conduct business through their personal email accounts, accountability is easily lost.”
Denham’s four-page directive came in the wake of scandals involving aides to Premier Christy Clark and ex-Multiculturalism Minister John Yap using non-government email addresses to evade the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
The act applies to provincial and municipal governments, agencies and enterprises in B.C. “The use of personal email accounts does not relieve public bodies of their duty to comprehensively search for requested records and to produce them,” wrote Denham.
“While nothing in FIPPA directly prohibits public body employees from using personal email accounts, doing so may make it more difficult for their employer to search for records. Employees may be unwilling to produce records from their personal account or to allow access to their accounts for that purpose.”
Denham wrote that security is another reason for public bodies to prohibit workers from using their personal emails. Many personal accounts are web-based and reside on servers outside of Canada. FIPPA requires domestic access and storage of information.
Denham also announced a preliminary investigation into the Multicultural Outreach plan scandal. The March 14 in-house review by John Dyble, Deputy Minister to Clark, found public employees had violated the government’s ban on mixing political party work with government business. Unlike Dyble, however, Denham has the power to order witnesses to testify under oath.
Denham ordered her staff to do “additional fact-checking” over her March 4 investigation of the government’s no-records replies to FOI requests. That report was published three days after Clark’s deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad quit over the ethnic wooing scandal. Haakstad admitted to Denham that she may have destroyed records about last September’s departure of chief of staff Ken Boessenkool, but did not violate the FOI law because the records were considered “transitory.” Haakstad was not under oath because she agreed to the interview.
“These events reinforce the need for a legislated duty to document, which would ensure that a record of key decisions, actions, advice, recommendations and deliberations of government is created, secured and preserved,” Denham wrote. “A duty to document is not only in the public interest; it promotes openness and transparency, good governance, and provides documentation of government’s legacy for future generations.”