Letter – City privacy request is troubling

The City of Victoria’s staff request to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner to set a cap on the number of FOI requests

City privacy request is troubling

The City of Victoria’s staff request to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Commissioner to set a cap on the number of FOI requests Focus magazine is allowed to submit is deeply troubling. Limiting anyone’s access to public information, let alone a member of the media in good standing, would establish a terrible precedent and also be a significant step back from the principle of open government at the civic level in British Columbia.

It is our opinion that if the city would move more rapidly to implement the Open Government/Open Data concept approved by council last fall, the need for members of the public and media to use the FOI process would be greatly reduced, since most of the information would have been made public in the first place.

Indeed, this point was made by Coun. Marianne Alto in introducing the motion. Among the features of her open government model are two of direct relevance to both the current case and the earlier one concerning a third-party report that had been withheld from council until it was revealed through an FOI request:

– Ensure that data supplied to the city by third parties (developers, contractors, consultants) are unlicensed, in a prevailing open standard format, and not copyrighted except if otherwise prevented by legal considerations

– Release automatically all reports submitted to council that do not require confidentiality.  If it could be subject to an FOI request, release it and let people know that it is available

As it stands, however, Coun. Alto’s plan to have Victoria, in her words, “join the ranks of its municipal counterparts on the national and international scene” by adopting open government principles, is barely moving at a snail’s pace, with no target date for full implementation.

We suggest that putting more resources into the Open Government/Open Data initiative would be money far better spent than expanding the budget needed to support the FOI process. We therefore call on city council to direct staff to withdraw the Section 43 application, and further, to commence an immediate and comprehensive review of all FOI requests and the resources currently allocated to deal with them.

Derry McDonell,Open Victoria,Victoria

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