POLITICS

Freedom Of Information Requests More Costly, Less Informative: Report

06/11/2015 01:43 EDT | Updated 06/11/2016 05:59 EDT
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HALIFAX - People are waiting longer, paying more and getting less information when they file requests under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in Nova Scotia, according to a report by the review officer.

Catherine Tully also said the number of complaints to her office jumped 28 per cent last year and that 69 have already been filed in the first three months of this year.

Tully, who released the findings in her annual report Thursday, said more needs to be done to educate people about the act and speed up the process of getting information to applicants.

"There's significant work required to ensure that access to information rights remain meaningful and effective in Nova Scotia," she said.

"It's taking longer to process access requests."

Requests for information are supposed to be resolved within 30 days, but she said the average wait time to close a file that has been sent to her office for review is two years.

Tully said she wants to get that down to 90 days.

She said there is a rise in the number of requests for more time to process information applications, as well as an increase in the number of complaints from applicants who haven't received a response within 30 days.

However, Tully, who took on the job nine months ago, said her office has cleared the backlog of 223 cases from 2009 to 2014 and resolved twice as many cases last year as it did the previous year.

She said the province needs to update its privacy protection laws to keep up with technological developments.

Tully said she was concerned that public bodies, municipalities and health facilities do not regularly report serious privacy breaches to her office. She recommends that they be required to notify the affected person and her office of serious breaches.

Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism professor at the University of King's College, said it's discouraging that the service appears to be getting slower, more expensive and less transparent.

Vallance-Jones, who prepared a freedom of information audit last year, said search fees for a request can climb into the thousands of dollars.

"Fees are a real impediment to access," he said. "If you're the average citizen and want some information, these things can block access and prevent people from getting it."

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