Thursday, October 21, 2021

Privacy Commissioner has more than a few concerns over BC NDP government's FOI plans

Information and Privacy
Commissioner Michael McEvoy
(from oipc website

The work week for MLA's is almost over and for Citizen's Services Minister Lisa Beare that quitting time whistle later this afternoon at the BC Legislature probably can't  come soon enough. 

That after a week that has put her into the middle of a political firestorm over the government's plans to overhaul the Freedom of Information process in the province.

As we've noted through the week, the NDP legislation has been the focal point for both the opposition in the Legislature and the larger collective of the media, with both raising a range of alarms over any number of elements of the government's plans.

Stikine's Nathan Cullen speaks in defence of NDP government's Freedom of Information changes as part of extensive Tuesday debate

Horgan government takes the 'Free' out of Freedom of Information Access

One more voice has now entered the fray and it's a fairly significant one, with Michael McEvoy the Information and Privacy Commissioner for the Province of British Columbia sending off a seven page letter to the Minister, one which starts off with a request for a conversation prior to the bill making its way to third reading.  

Something that perhaps the NDP Government should have considered well before introducing what has become some controversial legislation planning.

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Following that introductory paragraph, the rest of the letter raises a lengthy list of concerns over the proposals. 

A check list that the opposition and media will no doubt take note of and continue to take the Government to task over until the bill passes thanks to the NDP majority, or the government hears the wisdom of some of the calls for change and with makes significant alterations or abandons the proposal completely.

Among the Information and Privacy Commissioners concerns 

Absence of information about key regulations
Data linking
Data residency
Proposed privacy breach notification rules
Subsidiary corporations
Addition of a new public body
Snooping offences
New exclusions of records from FIPPA
Application fees for access requests
Authorizing public bodies to disregard access requests
 Error in s. 36 of Bill 22
Restoring the s. 13 protection for “advice or recommendations” to its original intent
Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information 
Protection of Privacy Act

From that lengthy list a few jump out for attention.

The Subject of Fees has been the focus for the opposition and media for much of the week and on that theme Mr. McEvoy said:

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Another area of note, the topic of Data residency and the need for protections of data that the Commissioner believes are lacking.

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The plan to Remove the Office of the Premier as a public body, an initiative not really well explained by the government as to what it all means and an another area of concern for Mr. McEvoy.

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As well, the ability to disregard access requests makes for another red flag for the commissioner.

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The letter to the Minister (which you can review here) is vital reading for anyone looking to better understand just what the government's plans for change to the Freedom of Information act are about and the correspondence should be on the reading list for many in British Columbia.

At the top of those that should do some reading, the Premier, the cabinet and the NDP backbenchers that will be looking to move the proposed legislation through the Legislature.

For whatever reason, since attaining their majority almost one year ago, an event the NDP government celebrated yesterday, with a list of accomplishments;  the Premier and his team have also made more than a few stumbles in the last 365 days which have given cause for anger and frustration for British Columbians.

This questionable plan for change to access of Freedom of Information is just the latest one that adds a bit of tarnish to that shiny new car look that they had in October of 2020. 

The topic has been a main newsmaker over the week, you can review some of the comments and observations on the file from our Political blog D'Arcy McGee and our Victoria Viewpoints feature.

More noes on the Legislature can be reviewed from our archive page here.

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