Case Report – IPC blesses manual processing of FOI request despite push for “e-access”

On October 29th the IPC/Ontario issued an order in what appears to be a well-litigated dispute about the access request process. It rejected a challenge to the reasonableness of a search and the reasonableness of a fee estimate that was based on the respondent municipality’s manual process of providing access.

The responding municipality’s FOI officer directed officials to conduct searches for responsive records and to print and forward responsive records. The officer then manually de-duplicated and reviewed records prior to providing access. The appellant argued that this process was unreliable and inefficient and that the municipality either should have used its IT department or third-party to process the request using automated means. The IPC deemed the municipality’s chosen process to be reasonable, though it disallowed fees related to 2.5 hours of de-duplication and organization because the municipality did not provide sufficient supporting particulars.

The IPC has, in at least one order, endorsed an “e-access” process in upholding a fee estimate for about $12,500. Though such a process is more in tune with prevailing best practices for records search and retrieval, it will also tend to result in higher costs, all of which can be transferred to an Ontario requester if a third-party service provider is used. Given the requester in this more recent case was asked to pay less than $500 to receive the benefit of the municipality’s (certainly laborious) manual efforts, one may wonder if she really wanted what she asked for.

MO-2472, 2009 CanLII 63119 (ON I.P.C.).

3 thoughts on “Case Report – IPC blesses manual processing of FOI request despite push for “e-access”

  1. Hi Dan, You might be interested to know that the NSW Right to Information Act -Section 53-(to commence in 2010) requires an agency to undertake reasonable search using the most efficient means reasonably available including resources that facilitate retrieval of information stored electronically. While a lot depends on how an application is framed (and how an agency in practice applies the law) this seems to be an advance on previous search obligations. Cheers. Peter

  2. Thanks for the comment Peter. An interesting policy issue to look into! Hope all is well in the southern hemi! Dan.

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