The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) released two investigation reports today that looked into records management and access to information practices under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP Act).
The first report examined how the Government of Alberta (GoA) searches the Action Request Tracking System (ARTS) in response to access to information requests.
The second report reviewed the Balancing Pool’s management of transitory records.
“These reports reinforce the message that effective records management practices combined with education and training programs are essential to access to information systems,” said Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton.
The ARTS investigation found that GoA staff responsible for responding to access requests are well aware that records in a database are subject to the FOIP Act, but there are some differences in how GoA departments search for records in general, as well as search for records in ARTS.
This investigation was opened after the release of Investigation Report F2016-IR-01 into alleged improper destruction of records following the May 2015 provincial election. An individual wrote a letter to the Commissioner with concerns that the misunderstanding of the application of the FOIP Act to the information held in ARTS, as referenced in the report, may have impacted responses he or others received to previous access requests made under the FOIP Act.
Overall, the ARTS investigation found that GoA departments, in responding to access requests where relevant records may be available through the ARTS database, make every reasonable effort to assist applicants and to respond to each applicant openly, accurately and completely. However, this is a general finding and does not implicate past, current or future OIPC reviews of GoA department responses to access requests made under the FOIP Act.
There were four recommendations made to the GoA regarding the ARTS investigation:
- Establish and implement call for records practices that are less dependent on the knowledge or experience of individual FOIP Coordinators.
- Provide regular, ongoing FOIP Act training for all GoA staff, with more in-depth supplemental training for staff who are involved intimately in searching for responsive records.
- Develop a GoA-wide dedicated form to be used by all departments to create and maintain a record of searches in order to consistently and systematically require department employees to document steps taken to identify and locate records that may be responsive to an access request.
- Remind staff, through the call for records, that records may exist in many different forms, including electronic information systems, and that a comprehensive search for responsive records must include a search of such systems.
Balancing Pool Investigation
The Balancing Pool investigation found that it had responded properly to two separate access requests, despite allegations from applicants who were concerned about an instruction by an Alberta Energy employee to delete an email and a draft briefing note described as “sensitive and transitory”. The Balancing Pool did not delete the email or the draft briefing note, and provided access to both when responding to the applicants’ requests.
However, the investigation also found that the Balancing Pool was not fully aware of its records management policies and procedures. Furthermore, employees of the Balancing Pool were not trained at the time to understand the difference between official and transitory records.
There were three recommendations made to the Balancing Pool:
- When providing records to applicants, the Balancing Pool should clearly identify the records provided and, to the extent reasonable, provide related documents alongside each other (i.e. email with attachment) in order to assist applicants in understanding the records.
- Create a records management program in light of the GoA’s Records Management Regulation and records management program in the anticipation that the Balancing Pool will need to comply with these rules and regulations in the future.
- Ensure officials and employees of the Balancing Pool are trained on applicable records management policies, procedures and standards, including records retention and destruction and the difference between official and transitory records.
Finally, the investigation found that certain GoA public bodies are designated under Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Regulation, with the result that those public bodies are subject to the GoA’s Records Management Regulation. Others, including the Balancing Pool, are designated as public bodies under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (Ministerial) Regulation, with the result that they are not subject to the GoA’s Records Management Regulation. The investigation recommended that the Commissioner write to the Minister of Service Alberta highlighting this inconsistency.