Watchdog recommends blanket ban on personal emails for government business
Province has 'duty to document,' according to information commissioner Donovan Molloy
Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner says the provincial government should prohibit the use of personal email accounts to conduct government business.
Donovan Molloy made that recommendation in a report issued Wednesday.
True commitment to accountability and transparency dictates the implementation of record-keeping practices and policies that preclude use of personal email accounts or other means that either avoid creating records or make records inaccessible.- Information Commissioner Donovan Molloy
That report was specific to the Department of Natural Resources. But in it, Molloy also dealt with the broader issue of the "duty to document" within the government.
"True commitment to accountability and transparency dictates the implementation of record-keeping practices and policies that preclude use of personal email accounts or other means that either avoid creating records or make records inaccessible," Molloy wrote in his report.
"Premiers, ministers, chairs, directors and other executives who use personal email to conduct the business of a public body set a tone throughout the body that this is acceptable, and perhaps preferred. Citizens of the province are entitled not to have their access to information subverted by the use of personal email. The public also must be satisfied that communications surrounding a public body's decisions and its actual decisions are documented so that there are records to access."
The commissioner noted that "it should not require legislation for government to create and implement a policy that neither ministers nor government employees are permitted to use personal email accounts to conduct government business."
He added that privacy breaches become more likely when government records are stored outside of government networks.
The province has 10 business days to respond to Molloy's report.
Complaints relate to Nalcor correspondence
The commissioner looked into the issue after receiving two complaints from the St. John's Telegram over access-to-information requests filed by the newspaper.
Those complaints related to the use of personal emails by Nalcor Energy board members and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady over CEO Ed Martin's departure from the energy corporation earlier this year.
Coady swore an affidavit that she searched her personal email account twice, and had provided all responsive records. The commissioner accepted that all relevant emails had been disclosed.
But Molloy was critical of Nalcor's contention that it should not be expected to contact previous employees or directors when an access-to-information request is received, to determine whether they have relevant records in their possession.
He recommended in a separate report that Nalcor "take steps to obtain copies of responsive emails, including, at a minimum, requesting them from former members of its board of directors."
Molloy said the Crown energy corporation should "complete the process of developing its policy on the use of personal emails for Nalcor business as soon as possible."