I presented with Alex Cameron of Fasken’s today at the Association of Municipal Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario “Municipal Information Access & Privacy Forum.” Alex and I have done this privacy and litigation presentation together before, but today we were drawn into some good issues about municipal information governance by a very sophisticated audience.
For me, today’s light bulb was about how good information governance relies so heavily on separating electronic communications based on their purpose: ideally, work communications should flow separately from personal communications which should flow separately from “constituency communications” (for councilors).
The well known City of Ottawa decision – in which the Divisional Court held that personal e-mails are not subject to our provincial access legislation – is certainly liberating to public servants who are personal users (who isn’t?), but it invites a mixing of personal and work communications in a way that makes municipalities’ ability to govern communications more challenging. This recent municipal privacy case is an example of a governance breakdown related to a difficult to characterize e-mail, and was raised today in a manner that highlighted the difficulties with mixed flows.
One message today was that municipalities have to work very hard to assert their right to govern the mixed purpose communications on their systems. With employees, this has been done for years through acceptable use policies, such policies slowly evolving to be more express about management rights. As the discussion today highlighted, councilors cannot be so easily controlled, which lead some audience members to share great insight on what communication services to offer councilors and on what terms. I’m afraid I don’t a blueprint to recommend, but as I began, practices that encourage the separation of communications by purpose will result in great benefit.