Canadian Security Magazine

Personal email, BBMs subject to FOI, privacy watchdog tells public servants

By The Canadian Press   

News Public Sector

TORONTO — Ontario's information and privacy commissioner has told government and public sector staff that their personal email and BlackBerry Messenger accounts are subject to freedom of information requests.

Brian Beamish issued a guideline Tuesday for Ontario’s public institutions to help them comply with access legislation.

All public servants should be aware that “records relating to government business are subject to provincial access legislation, even if created, sent or received through instant messaging tools or personal email accounts,” Beamish wrote.

“There has been some confusion around these issues, but it is imperative that all public servants, elected officials and political staff understand that information requests for records about public business cannot be evaded by using instant messaging or personal email accounts.”

Political staffers often use tools such as BlackBerry Messenger to communicate with each other, and those records don’t tend to be included in responses to access-to-information requests.


Either get staff to stop using those services for government business or make sure they are in compliance with privacy legislation, Beamish wrote, though he favours the former.

“The IPC strongly recommends that institutions prohibit their staff from using instant messaging tools and personal email accounts for doing business, unless they can be set up to retain and store records automatically,” he wrote.

But there may be situations in which an institution “has a legitimate business need” to use those tools or accounts, Beamish wrote. If so, the records have to be automatically and securely retained, they must be searchable in order to comply with access requests, and include them in records management planning and retention schedules, he said.

Instant messaging includes text messages, BlackBerry Messenger and PIN-to-PIN communications, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts, Beamish noted.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016

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