ARICHAT: Following a year that saw Richmond County officials wrestle with the proper means of releasing information to the public, Nova Scotia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner met with the county’s municipal council to outline their options.
Catherine Tully addressed last week’s council meeting at the Richmond Municipal Building in Arichat, which was also the site of workshops conducted earlier in the day between Tully and representatives of multiple municipal units and police departments.
In her address to council, Tully pointed out that the access laws laid out in Nova Scotia’s Municipal Government Act are designed to give citizens the opportunity to hold their elected officials to account while promoting openness and transparency for every level of government.
“It allows for meaningful public participation in the democratic process, it’s intended to ensure fairness in government decision-making, and it permits the airing and reconciliation of divergent views,” Tully pointed out.
“I encourage you, as you engage in your work as councillors, to be advocates in openness and accountability, to promote the common good and support human flourishing that results from respecting access to information rights and strong privacy protections.”
Tully’s appearance also saw her laying out what she described as the five best practices with regard to privacy and access for municipal councillors. These include the exclusion of council from the processing of access requests, the knowledge of risks associated with instant messaging and personal e-mail accounts, the use of what Tully described as a “responsible officer” to answer questions about access and privacy laws, the security and encryption of information carried on individual devices, and the promotion of open government.
On the last point, Tully suggested that the use of a “proactive release site” for on-line postings of municipal information could serve as a step towards municipalities getting ahead of information-release issues before such concerns escalate into difficult situations for all involved.
“The more that’s out there, the less people will have to make an access request, and that’s way less work for you,” Tully pointed out.
She also stressed the importance of following stringent security measures in the event that a municipal councillor or staffer uses a personal mobile device, tablet or computer for communication or documentation related to municipal business.
“If you’re using a personal device, it needs to have a standard of security equal to what the municipality gives you,” Tully insisted.
“Data has value – devices, less and less so. Devices are not being stolen for the device itself, but for the information on the device.”
The commissioner’s words drew a response from Isle Madame councillor Alvin Martell, who suggested that council officials must be prudent with the nature and amount of information they release in individual cases.
“Sometimes you don’t realize that you’re being too open and transparent because you’re giving information out, you’re posting [data] on your Web site or whatever that you shouldn’t be posting, and sometimes it comes back to bite you, really,” Martell proposed, drawing agreement from Tully.
“Put up what you can, and people know that if they’re not happy with that, they can make an access request and you can do a thorough review of what’s left,” she suggested.