Government Weighs Texting Ban on Bureaucrats’ Phones
Where to place the value on the importance of preserving the access of information on instant messages for government employees
Timothy Alberdingk Thijm, Staff Writer
A new report from the Information Commissioner of Canada claims that, “information that should be accessible by requesters is being irremediably deleted or lost” in several federal institutions. As such, Suzanne Legault, the Information Commissioner, has requested that Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, to institute a ban on instant messaging for government employees.
The ban would instruct government institutions “to disable instant messaging on all government-issued wireless devices,” save when it can be guaranteed that this is the only course of communication possible, and that the information is properly stored with the understanding of the government employee.
Legault’s findings show that only two of eleven federal institutions actually store their users’ instant messages, as the table below shows. These messages may be of importance to the public, should they ask for more government transparency, as most instant messages are only slightly more long-lasting – thirty days maximum, although the Treasury Board is considering changing that to three – than word-of-mouth discussion.
However, as The Sta” reports, Tony Clement did not agree with Legault’s idea, decrying it as “nonsensical.” Legault told The Star that the lack of protection of “their rights under access to information” should make them “extremely upset.”
Legault was not without support, however, as MP Pat Martin also backed her proposal. He believes that, “bureaucrats rely on instant messaging for government business for the very reason it won’t likely be made public.”
Tony Clement saw it differently, however, saying instead that “maybe they want to make sure that their child is okay” when a bureaucrat sends an IM, citing their concerns as parents. For work-related information, Clement insists that the government is preserving the message, as the rules state.
Regardless of what the message actually details, Legault’s report nonetheless pins the blame on the government for not respecting the Access to Information Act, the importance of which was explained by Commissioner John Grace in 2000:
“[It] depends on records being created, properly indexed and filed, readily retrievable, appropriately archived and carefully assessed before destruction to ensure that valuable information is not lost. If records about particular subjects are not created, or if they cannot be readily located and produced, the right of access is meaningless. The right of access is not all that is at risk. So, too, is our ability as a nation to preserve, celebrate and learn from our history. So, too, is our government’s ability to deliver good governance to the citizenry.”
And whether or not a ban is passed, concerns may soon arise anyway for the government to step up efforts in conserving important information.
Tim Alberdingk Thijm is a staff writer at Arbitrage Magazine. He studies English and Drama at the University of Toronto.