The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, sent all four parties a questionnaire pushing them for clear positions on how they would stop the erosion of our privacy rights and defend our access to government records through Freedom of Information. On April 30th, we received responses from the NDP, the Liberals, and the Greens (we've yet to hear back from the Conservatives). They all had interesting, if decidedly different things to say.
The phoney campaign has finally given way to the real thing. The writ is dropped, the legislature is dissolved and politicians are out on the hustings. And as voters know well, that means big, glitzy promises. But imagine promises that wouldn't need sod-turnings or ribbon cuttings? Meaningful promises that every party can sign-on to, because they're about good government, not party ideology.
A few short days from now, the writ will drop on the 2013 provincial election, kicking off twenty-eight days of heated campaigning. And while there's no shortage of issues for voters to consider, recent controversies around government secrecy and attempts to undermine Freedom of Information make it clear that information policy should be a top priority for voters.
In B.C. and across Canada, the past 12 months have seen information rights make headlines on a regular basis. And usually not in a good way. At the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, much of our year was spent (once again) in sparring matches with the provincial government over access, transparency, and privacy issues.
B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner took a stiff shot at the use of Automatic License Plate Recognition technology by the Victoria police. But it will likely take more than just her efforts to bring this ever-expanding surveillance system back in line with privacy law. The RCMP simply shouldn't be running a surveillance system on people who haven't broken any law, and they shouldn't be able to take advantage of the federal-provincial jurisdictional split to do so either.
The B.C. government sure does love secrecy for its educational institutions -- or at least their subsidiary companies. What the information and privacy commissioner said would be a relatively simple change to definitions was, according to a B.C. minister, a much bigger issue requiring consultations and even changes to other sections of the act. So, a year later, what has been done? In a word: nothing.
Our data published by the Chief Information Officer of B.C. reveal that the FOI situation in this province has gotten significantly worse over the last decade. It seems that thousands of those pesky records have simply disappeared. The figures beg an obvious question: what happened? What brought on this staggering decline in the government's ability to find records in response to FOI requests?
Nearly a quarter all general freedom of information requests filed with the government between July 2011 and July 2012 came back with no responsive records. None at all. Are FOI requests simply becoming too exotic and obscure? Are British Columbians suddenly asking for information about Sasquatch or Ogopogo? Or is there a bigger issue at hand -- a systemic, structural problem with the way the B.C. government is managing our information?