Case Report – Another e-FOI case out of Alberta

On January 14th, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench quashed part of an OIPC order about the reasonableness of a search for electronically stored records.

The Court quashed an order requiring the University of Alberta to restore and search e-mail server backup tapes. It held the OIPC erred by making this order without considering the restriction on the obligation to create records that require an institution to use more than its normal “computer hardware and software and technical expertise” or cause “unreasonable interference” with its operation. As in Edmonton Police Services from last year, the Court seemed to assume that restoring compressed e-mails from a backup tape involves “creating” a record.

The Court also upheld the OIPC’s order to search again. In doing so, it affirmed an OIPC finding that it was unreasonable to search for “complaints” related to the requester by only searching e-mails of the two administrators who invited feedback and not the department members from whom feedback was solicited. The Court commented that a search of the recipients’ e-mails only was insufficient given the (unresolved) potential for deletion of e-mails:

The University, on the other hand, insists it was reasonable to restrict the scope of the search to just those two persons because they were the people who would have been aware of the complaints and would have received them. While the Chair and Associate Chair were the most likely recipients of complaints, it was reasonable to consider whether others might have responsive records, including the senders of any complaints. This was particularly so given the University’s evidence that the Chair and Associate Chair had no standard practice in regards to retention and deletion of records, gave no evidence as to whether they had deleted any email, and gave no evidence that they did not recall receiving any written complaints.

The Court also affirmed an order requiring the University to apply broader search terms in searching again on the basis that a keyword search based on the requester’s first or last name only was unreasonable.

Hat tip to Linda MacKay-Panos at ABlawg. See here for Linda’s summary.

University of Alberta v. Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2010 ABQB 89 (CanLII).

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