11/28/2013 11:01 EST | Updated 01/28/2014 05:59 EST

Government use of instant messages puts access laws at risk

Canada's information commissioner, Suzanne Legault, recommends in a special report to Parliament that specific controls be placed on instant messaging to preserve government records and respect the access to information law.

The report says access to instant (text) messages sent and received by ministers’ office staff is at particular risk. 

“While technology is a powerful tool for innovation, its use must not infringe on the right of Canadians to know what government is doing and to hold it accountable for its decisions,” Legault said in a statement.

Her report investigated the use of wireless devices and instant messaging in 11 federal institutions. It found there were approximately 98,000 BlackBerrys issued and that the instant messages, commonly called "PINs," that are sent and received on those devices are automatically deleted, usually after 30 days.

And the report says the risk of lost information is even greater now that Treasury Board Secretariat has proposed new policies that would allow instant messages to be deleted after only three days.

Legault recommends a government-wide policy that would see instant messaging disabled on all government-issued wireless devices, with few exceptions. As well, she argues government departments should set up a way to automatically back up all messages.

And she says the Access to Information Act should be amended to require government officials create records documenting their decisions.

But according to the report, the president of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement, does not agree with the recommendations and has declined to implement them.