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.
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.
This holiday season, consultation on the deficiencies in the Access to Information Act provides all of us with a chance to do our best Jacob Marley and remind the Info-Scrooge Conservatives that they once campaigned on the position that government works best when open and accountable. Don't miss your chance to participate.
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.
Despite the disastrous launch of the Integrated Case Management System earlier this year, the B.C. government is poised to unveil its next multimillion-dollar, can't-fail IT project: an ID card for everyone in the province. With ICBC in the middle of a labour dispute that finds corporation employees refusing training on the new card, the massive project is on hold, only weeks before its slated November launch.
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.
Faulty advertising rules caused extensive problems for small spenders such as non-profit and charity groups during the 2009 B.C. election. The rules led to widespread confusion, wasted resources, anxiety and, most dangerously, self-censorship among organizations that spent little or nothing on election advertising. The government should have (and could have) fixed this situation when it was amending the law this spring, but chose not to.
Citing a whole range of exceptions from legal privilege to law enforcement to personal privacy, the ministry refused to release any of the records we requested. This, despite the fact that our request should have little or nothing to do with lawyers or police! An RCMP investigation shouldn't mean that every record held by the ministry is automatically off-limits 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?