BBMs, text messages subject to FOI; Cornwall undertaking information storage review, says CAO

Cornwall CAO Maureen Adams, seen here in this Jan. 11, 2016, file photo, says the city is undertaking a review of how to collect electronic messaging data. This move comes after the Ontario privacy commissioner issued a guideline to public sector staff that BBMs and personal email are subject to FOI requests (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – With a directive from Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, the city’s chief administrative officer says they are actively looking at how to store more information subject to freedom of information requests.

Brian Beamish told government and public sector staff last week that personal email and BlackBerry Messenger accounts are subject to freedom of information requests.

That also includes text messages, PIN-to-PIN communications, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts.

Beamish issued the guideline for Ontario public institutions to help them comply with access legislation.

“There is not a policy and procedure in place. However, we are undertaking with our networks, undertaking further review on how we can be able to maintain and compile that information,” CAO Maureen Adams told Cornwall Newswatch.

“Our IT (information technology) department is looking into the capability of (storing and sorting that information). I think what’s happening as well, the companies that we’re dealing with (for) our mobile devices, they are also recognizing that data needs to be captured,” she said.

Adams is familiar with the inner workings of collecting electronic information because, as the former Chief Financial Officer, she also oversaw the IT department.

The corporation already has a database for capturing emails. “So now it’s taking that a step further to include texting, BBM messenging,” Adams said.

For those that accept them, Cornwall city councillors have a city-issued BlackBerry and most senior staff with the city have the same device.

The executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression told The Canadian Press, government uses BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) “constantly” and anything embarrassing is funneled through personal email or BBM.

Tom Henheffer said the guidelines need to come with penalties to be effective.

In 2013, the federal information watchdog recommended a ban on instant messaging with federally issued BlackBerrys because information is typically deleted after a month.

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