News

It’s Official: Board Member Contact Info Considered Private

Earlier this year, I filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request with the province’s Board Resourcing and Development Office (BRDO). They are responsible for managing appointments to various provincial boards. This includes the boards of all public universities in the province, but also things like hospital boards, police boards, marketing boards, and others (you could be the next appointee to the “BC Broiler Hatching Egg Commission”! Apply now!).

The FOI request was for “A list of contact information, email addresses, mailing addresses, and telephone numbers for each [named] individual in relation to his or her role as a member of the UBC Board of Governors. (Date Range for Record Search: From 08/10/2015 To 08/11/2015)” The named individuals were 20 of the 21 Governors (not including the UBC president who is ex officio), identified on the Board’s website.

The BRDO produced records for the 11 members appointed by the province, with redactions. In this case, the redactions revolved around certain pieces of information being considered an unreasonable invasion of a person’s privacy.

ZERO email addresses survived the process of severing the records. All were considered private, personal email addresses.

A total of 5 phone numbers was produced, work numbers for the following people: Celeste Haldane, Fiona MacFarlane, Lane Merrifield, Doug Mitchell, David Sidoo.

John Montalbano, as noted before, remains a ghost, with no contact information made available. This is also the case for Birgit Bennett, Kenneth Fung, Alice Laberge, Greg Peet, and Alan Shuster. These people apparently all conduct the business of being Governors via a combination of telepathy and semaphore.

I’ll note that severing this information from the records is ambiguous but likely correct under BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). Under it, information about a “third party’s position, functions or remuneration as an officer, employee or member of a public body” is not considered an unreasonable invasion of that person’s privacy. However, FIPPA’s definition of “contact information” is limited to addresses, emails, and phone numbers which can be used to contact someone at a place of business.

The real problem here is that Governors are apparently being allowed to conduct university business at the very highest level using private emails and phones. UBC’s governance continues to take place in the shadows cast by stonewalling, unannounced meetings, and private communications.

Alice Laberge, in a recent letter to the UBC Faculty Association, deflected calls for increased transparency by stating that “The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act strikes a balance between the desire for citizens to access information about public bodies and the need to protect the personal privacy of individuals.”

Ms. Laberge – noted FIPPA expert – surely also concurs with the guidance document from the BC Officer of the Information and Privacy Commissioner entitled “Use of Personal Email Accounts for Public Business“. She would only have needed to read the Introduction to find out that “public bodies should not, for FIPPA purposes, allow the use of personal email accounts for work.” And yet, UBC allows this to occur for every single governor.

Unfortunately, as BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has repeatedly acknowledged, there is nothing actually in FIPPA compelling people not to use personal emails for public business. And so the practice continues, Ms. Laberge included. The fact that she extols FIPPA’s virtue as a balanced piece of legislation while personally acting in ways which undermine it should hardly surprise anyone anymore. Rather than being a new low for UBC’s governance, it’s the new normal.

Discussion

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  1. Maybe they all use embarrassing addresses from 1998 like hot_mamma_1963@hotmail.com and john_knows_best@yahoo.com.

    I sometimes like to think “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”, but these days that explanation is becoming less and less adequate.

    Posted by Jean-Fran├žois | October 5, 2015, 11:29 am
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