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archives society of alberta
NEWSLETTER
March 1997    Volume 16 Number 4

ASA SYMPOSIUM INVENTS A NEW WORD

by Jim Bowman

The verb "to FOIPP" and the adjective "FOIPPable" emerged as innovations to the archivist's vocabulary at the ASA-sponsored symposium "Freedom of Information, Protection of Privacy and the Documentary Record in Alberta: Implications for the MUSH Sector" held in Calgary on February 28 and March 1.

Organized by ASA Education Committee Chair Rick Klumpenhouwer and Archives Advisor Elizabeth Denham, the smoothly-run event was attended by about 200 archivists and officers of local government authorities and educational institutions. Its objective was to prepare for the application of Alberta's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP) to these types of organizations, which is expected soon. (The acronym MUSH refers to municipalities, universities and colleges, school districts, and health care authorities).

Speakers at the symposium included several archivists and administrators who had experience implementing FOIPP requirements for local government authorities and educational institutions in B.C., Saskatchewan, and Ontario. Although they came from different types of organizations in different parts of Canada, some common themes emerged from their presentations:

  • Information managers must prepare their organizations for FOIPP. In many cases, a major shift in the corporate culture is required: bureaucrats, accustomed to withholding information from the public, will have to start thinking in terms of making information freely available.
  • In some cases, filing systems and forms will have to be redesigned so that personal information does not appear in the same file or on the same document as public information. Staff will have to remember that any opinions they record in internal memos may become public.
  • Security systems, for both electronic and paper-based records, will have to be put into place to ensure that private information is not accidentally released.
  • Organizations should anticipate FOI requests by making information available on a routine basis. For example, it would be better to release records of municipal water quality in a monthly bulletin than wait until a formal FOI request is made. Formal requests are often made only when the requester is feeling frustrated, resulting in an adversarial situation usually requiring more paperwork to resolve.
  • When information is collected from individuals for any purpose, their informed consent must be obtained before it can be used for mailing lists or any other purpose.

Many of the presenters felt that archivists are ideally positioned to act as organizational FOIPP Coordinators. Archives are accustomed to providing user-friendly information services, and are likely to be perceived as neutral in the event of a dispute between a citizen and a bureaucracy. Archivists usually have comprehensive knowledge of their sponsoring organizations, and of the ways in which their information systems are linked.

Saturday's luncheon speaker was Alberta's Commissioner of Information and Privacy, Bob Clark. The affable former Alberta cabinet minister and business consultant recounted some of his experiences dealing with civil servants. He asserted that freedom of information and protection of privacy are now firmly entrenched, and warned that "there are serious implications if you choose not to go down this road." He advised public servants that "it's better to release information on your own terms than to have it drug out of you by the Commissioner". He predicted that information requesters will get more sophisticated, and that FOIPP coordinator positions will be excellent career opportunities.


We'd love to hear from you. You can e-mail your comments to the editor, Jim Bowman, at jbowman@cadvision.com



The Archives Society of Alberta
       Executive:
President
Bryan Corbett

Vice-President
Lynn McPherson

Secretary
Lynette Walton

Treasurer
Karen Buckley

Institutional Member-at-Large
Carolyn Hill

Individual Member-at-Large
Rick Klumpenhouwer


Committee Chairs:
Education
Richard Klumpenhouwer

Grants
Carolyn Hill

Membership/Nominations & Elections/Awards
Jane Bowe McCarthy

Public Awarness & Advocacy
Michael Dawe

Newsletter
Jim Bowman

Newsletter:
Editor
Jim Bowman

Newsletter Committee
Rick Klumpenhouwer, Karen Buckley, Lisa Smilianov

Correspondents
Cynthia Ball, Liana Haynes, Claudia Ramsay, Lorraine Sept, Farley Wuth

Design & Layout
Terry Delorme

Web Design & Programming
Tim Mumford


ASA Staff:
Archives Advisor
Elizabeth Denham

Administrative Coordinator
Terry Delorme