freedom of information
Scheduled to roll out at the end of this month, the federal government's Web Renewal Action! Plan will change how government information is posted and archived online, and not for the better. It clearly outlines the intention to drastically cut the number of government websites available to Canadians. Even more worrisome is the fact it's also contemplating preserving only that which receives a suitable number of clicks. Because everyone knows the most important information is always the most popular.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement is the federal government's Mr. Open Government, but in many ways, his much-hyped open data schemes testify to the Conservative government's general trend toward secrecy and one-way transparency.
Just before our recent over-sentimental overindulgence in gifts, food, drink and religion, the Star came out with a massive two-page spread titled "A Culture of Secrecy." It's a splendid rebuttal to the myth spreading through our culture that newspapers like the Star are doomed.
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.
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.
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?
Currently, the available open data seems to be used primarily by developers who make and sell apps, or by enthusiasts who write code as a hobby. It leaves me wondering if the only promise of open data is in monetizing that information for a downloadable app that may be of limited long-term value.