In comments to the privacy review (1), Paul Fraser, Acting Information and Privacy Commissioner, recommended to “Add to FIPPA a “duty to document” key prescribed government decisions”. “The OIPC has investigated hundreds of complaints concerning the fact that a requested record does not exist, as one was never created”. “…a “duty to document” be contained in access to information legislation, which would include a requirement for detailed documentation of key government actions and decisions, and an obligation to keep records up to date and readily retrievable, with penalties for non-compliance. A duty to document key government decisions is critical to good governance.”
The government and all the agencies and corporations of the government don’t like to document anything because that makes them accountable, which I assume, is one of the reasons the hospitals/clinics refuse to state specifically who has access to our information. So, I will provide some tips based on my own experiences:
1. We have a right to have the information provided by government in writing so I have been told by government staff. And, that you can report them if they refuse to put it in writing.
2. They (those who don’t want to put it in writing) will tell you that it is easier to discuss it on the phone (or in person behind closed doors) and they will put the conversation in writing later. I have found that what is later written (if something actually gets written) usually has little resemblance to what was said. So now I insist that it be put in writing, and it helps to prevent misunderstandings.
3. They insist that they just want to say one thing on the phone (or in person). I think of it as the “foot in the door” tactic. They don’t stop at one thing and, before you realize it, they have said everything. And nothing is in writing. If I get caught in this tactic now, I let them know that, since they lied and nothing was in writing, it didn’t happen, the conversation never took place. And, because it isn’t in writing, they can’t prove the conversation took place.
4. I had one person from the government who kept phoning me, despite the number of times that I said that I wanted to communicate only in writing. I should have reported him but instead, if I answered the phone I would repeat that I wanted everything in writing and hang up. If he left a message on my answering machine, then I would email him, restating what he had said on the phone and providing an answer. That way he either had to deny what was in my email or, by default, agree that it was what he had said. The end result was that it was in writing.
5. If someone refuses to put it in writing when asked (government or other), if they won’t be held accountable, then I know that what they have to say isn’t worth my time (the hospitals are an example). And, in fact, may put me at risk because there is a reason they don’t want it in writing. I also think it lacks in ethics and integrity.
There are obviously occasions when I don’t need it in writing. It’s a judgement call. But if I have to think about whether I need it in writing or not, I get it in writing.
(1) Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for BC, March 15, 2010, Submission of the A/Information and Privacy Commissioner to the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
(2) The Tyee, April 1, 2010, Andrew MacLeod, BC Lousy at Guarding Privacy