Commissioner Concludes Probe into Emails Sent to Teachers

July 3, 2014

Alberta Education has been found in contravention of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the FOIP Act) following an investigation by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) into a mass email sent to teachers by the Minister of Education on February 6, 2013.

The investigation revealed that the mailing list used by Education Minister Jeff Johnson to contact teachers was created from the Alberta Teacher Registry and included both business and personal email addresses of 34,328 teachers. The email addresses were collected by Alberta Education from teachers applying for certification, and from school authorities submitting information to update the Registry.

Alberta Education made a number of arguments for the use and disclosure of teacher names and email addresses, including that it was consistent with the purpose(s) for which the information was collected. Although most of these arguments were dismissed, the investigation ultimately concluded that the FOIP Act authorized the use and disclosure of teacher names and business email addresses since this is information that is routinely disclosed in a business or professional context and no other personal information was revealed. The use and disclosure of teacher names and personal email addresses, however, was not authorized under the FOIP Act.

“The heart of this matter is transparency,” commented Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton. “Even if you have authority to share information, it is important to be up-front with people as to why their personal information is being collected and how it will be used. This reduces the likelihood of complaints.”

The investigation report recommends that Alberta Education:

  • Remove personal email addresses from the Minister’s mailing list.
  • State, in all future mass email communications from the Minister to the teachers, the authority for the collection, use and disclosure of the teachers’ personal information.
  • Provide clear instructions to school authorities that only business email addresses provided by the school authorities or identified by teachers for business use be included in the submissions to Alberta Education.
  • Update all notifications on any forms used to collect information for the Registry to include the purposes for which the information is collected.

The Office received 34 complaints from individuals who received the Minister’s email. These complaints were placed on hold pending the conclusion of the Commissioner’s investigation. As of this date, Alberta Education has not indicated its acceptance of the investigation’s findings and recommendations. As such, the matter remains unresolved and each complainant may ask that their complaint proceed to an inquiry.