Kelowna runs afoul of privacy commissioner over Freedom of Information fees - InfoNews

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Kelowna runs afoul of privacy commissioner over Freedom of Information fees

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May 30, 2018 - 6:00 PM

KELOWNA - Trying to charge a citizen for providing them with their own personal information has earned Kelowna a slap-down from the provincial privacy commission.

In an order released March 29, adjudicator Chelsea Lott ruled the City of Kelowna could not charge an unnamed complainant almost $300 to process a Freedom of Information request for any records, in this case emails, that mentioned his own name over a certain time period.

Although Kelowna offered to lower the fee to $117.50 during mediation, the complainant refused and complained to the Office of the Information and Privacy Comissioner.

In particular, the complainant wanted to see how email correspondence with “elected and non-elected staff” over a certain issue and over a certain time period had been shared and the “views and opinions” that sharing had generated in subsequent emails.

In the order, the complainant noted he didn’t need the original emails, as he had his own archival copies.

“I am however very concerned with the recovery of records in which any of my originating correspondence, emails included, have been distributed beyond the original recipient, either internally within or external of the City of Kelowna,” the complainant said.

“I am further concerned about any opinions or views city staff, mayor and/or council about myself and/or the content of the correspondence,” the complainant added.

Lott sided with the complainant although she narrowed the overall scope of the complaint by dismissing several other issues that were intitially raised.

“Therefore Kelowna is not authorized to require the complainant to pay a fee for the services outlined,” Lott wrote.

The City of Kelowna has typically not fared with well with Freedom of Information or privacy commissioners.

In the early 2000s, Kelowna’s plan for using surveillance cameras attracted the provincial and federal privacy commissioner, who sued the city.

The city remains on the provincial privacy commissioner’s radar, including in a brief released earlier this year outlining concerns about its use of live monitored surveillance cameras.

Since 1998, Kelowna’s handling of freedom of information requests has been investigated three times, and each time the investigator found the city was too stringent in its interpretation of provincial freedom of information legislation.

City clerk Stephen Fleming, whose office handles Freedom of Information requests, said the city's position was a person's name in the 'From' portion of an email didn't qualify as personal information and that it could charge for staff time required to produce the requested records.

— This story was updated at 1:46 p.m. Thursday, May 31, 2018 with news information from Kelowna city clerk Stephen Fleming.

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