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IPC ruling a first step

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The Information and Privacy Commissioner ordered that the city issue a ruling on the release of communications between Councillor Nancy Diamond and lawyer George Rust-D’eye last month. UOIT’s Andrea Slane says the ruling cleared up rules surrounding the use of personal emails by government officials.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

As technology becomes ever more intertwined in our daily lives, decisions like those made to release Councillor Nancy Diamond’s private emails by the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) will continue as issues arise, says one local professor.

In December, the IPC ruled that the city had to issue a decision on whether to release emails sent by Diamond to municipal consultant George Rust-D’Eye prior to his hiring in 2013, as they were in the city’s control.

Both the city and Diamond argued the emails did not deal with city business and were not in their control as they were sent through the councillor’s private email account. The IPC disagreed.

“I think this is a positive thing,” says Andrea Slane, an associate professor in communication law and policy at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

“It shows that there has been a bit more attention now paid to access to information.”

Slane, currently on research leave, has done extensive work in the field of privacy law and was a practising lawyer in privacy law before becoming a professor.

Following the ruling, Brian Beamish, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, and other law professionals have labelled the decision as precedent setting.

Slane says the ruling is more of a much needed clarification.

“I think it’s precedent setting only in the sense that it clarifies something that maybe wasn’t so clear before,” she says. “It’s not about the actual facility that you use to communicate, but it’s about the content and the purpose of the email.”

The emails released from Diamond’s personal account, sent to Rust-D’Eye, contained a motion that would later pass in council dealing with his hiring. It was a main factor in the IPC’s decision as the emails directly dealt with city business.

With outdated privacy legislation in the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA), Slane says the need to update them will continue to arise as new issues come to the forefront that the policies don’t deal with.

“We are all so hooked into our devices and our various applications…it would be potentially something that really gets teased out over time,” she says of legislative change. “I think that’s probably a frontier we’re going to continue to push up against over time…but I think it does sort of show you something about the direction that the principle is meant to go.”

Slane suggests that perhaps the IPC ruling could ignite some future change.

“Maybe this type of thing does help suggest that that’s something that should be done sooner rather than later.”