Sask. privacy commissioner criticizes government's use of private email

Saskatchewan's privacy commissioner has released a report criticizing government leaders and employees for using private email addresses.

Premier's chief of operations says all emails sent on Sask. Party server being transferred to government one

The provincial privacy commissioner has issued two rulings criticizing the use of private email addresses by government leaders and employees. (CBC)

Saskatchewan's privacy commissioner says government leaders and employees ought to stick to their government emails when it comes to doing provincial business.

Ron Kruzeniski outlines this position in a recent ruling — a result of an investigation into a freedom of information response about correspondence related to Premier Brad Wall's trip to Texas in November 2016.

One of the issues brought to the privacy commissioner's officer was related to a chain of emails. The ruling states that the address associated with the "To" field was redacted, citing a part of the legislation that protects personal information.

"Questions about security and records management arise if and when government leaders or employees use non-government email accounts to do government-related activities," Kruzeniski writes.

"I strongly encourage government leaders and employees to use the Government of Saskatchewan email system that is supposed by the Ministry of Central Services to do government-related activities."

In his ruling, Kruzeniski goes to state Central Services has the "mandate, resources and expertise" to manage government email accounts in a secure way.

Government previously chastised for private emails

The report comes a month after the issue came to the light when the NDP criticized Wall of doing government business on a private server. 

Wall confirmed he had used his Saskatchewan Party email address for government-related work for as long as he could remember.

"It wasn't illegal. It wasn't contrary to policy, but it wasn't discussed in the legislative assembly or in the public. Now it has been," said Kruzeniski, saying the next step is move entirely to a government server. 

Cabinet minister Joe Hargrave said in May every MLA uses private email for government business. Hargrave said he himself has used a private account for government business but that practice has been halted.

FOI applies only if emails are transferred

Kathy Young, Wall's chief of operations and communications, has said the premier's emails, whether sent from a government or personal address, are subject to freedom of information legislation. Young also said the premier's private email is secure.

Kruzeniski clarified that in order for government-related emails sent on a private server to be accessible under the legislation, someone has to send them to the provincial system.

"If you make an access request, and the elected official searches the government account and any other account, and produces all the emails that are related to the access request, then transparency has been met," he said.

"If any elected official doesn't search the personal accounts then, yes, you have a transparency problem."

He said the government should include work conducted on private email when responding to freedom of information requests.

Young said that all emails Wall sent using the Saskatchewan Party server are in the process of being transferred over to the government one. She anticipates that process will wrap up shortly. 

Asked if the same was being done by MLAs and cabinet ministers, she responded by saying all ministers have been directed to do government business on the provincial server.

NDP accuses government of 'hiding' info 

Kruzeniski's office also recently ruled that members of the Global Transportation Hub's board of directors received "sensitive" information at private email addresses.

Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon is calling for the Saskatchewan Party to "do the right thing" and release all emails related to the GTH land deal to the provincial auditor.
NDP interim leader Trent Wotherspoon is calling on Premier Brad Wall to direct his private server to be reviewed by the privacy and conflict of interest commissioners.

He also wants the party to provide access to its email server and turn over all material to the conflict of interest and provincial privacy commissioners.

"This is a big deal. The fact of the matter is this a premier and a Sask. Party that are doing government business, storing it at the Sask. Party headquarters [and] blocking the FOI processes for over a decade," he told reporters on Monday. 

Wotherspoon said when it comes to the GTH, the question is whether the auditor had access to this private political server when dealing with the GTH investigation.

"If the auditor hasn't been given access, certainly she needs immediate access to that server," he said.

According to Young, Wall was never a part of the GTH negotiations and there are no emails that exist related to that matter.