03/19/2013 02:12 EDT | Updated 05/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Private email used by public servants under scrutiny

B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner says her office will investigate the use of personal email accounts by public servants.

Elizabeth Denham says John Dyble's report into the so-called "ethnic outreach" scandal raises a number of concerns beyond the issue of public servants doing partisan work.

“These documents raise important questions about whether personal email accounts were being used in an attempt to evade access to information law, and whether personal information was inappropriately shared," Denham said in a written statement.

In his report, Dyble said sensitive government information was sent from work computers to personal email accounts. Former B.C. multiculturalism minister John Yap admitted that was done to avoid scrutiny under the very same laws Denham's office enforces

In a statement issued Monday, Denham said she has directed her staff to conduct a preliminary investigation into Dyble's allegations.

"I have directed my staff to conduct a preliminary investigation into the activities described in the multicultural strategic outreach plan, including alleged information sharing between public servants and the B.C. Liberal Party," she said.

"We will review all relevant records and meet with parties involved in order to determine whether a formal investigation is required under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection Act, which applies to political parties."

She also said her office is reopening its own investigation into the growing rate of access to information requests that come back with no records to see if the use of personal email accounts may be part of the issue.

Last year, Denham launched an investigation in response to a complaint by the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association alleging significant growth in "no responsive records" replies by the government over the last 10 years.

She found the premier's office failed to find records for 45 per cent of FOI requests, the highest level of any government department.

On Monday, Denham's office also published a PDF guide for government employees who use personal email accounts for public business. It states that work-related email sent to or received from the personal email accounts of public body employees is subject to information requests made under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.