The way the public can access information is changing and representatives from municipalities across the province were updated on changes to the access to information rules.
Hollett and Access to Information and Privacy Protection Office representative Erin Drover both spoke at the MNL conference in Gander about the changes.
“One big change was in the definition of public bodies that now includes organizations owned by, created by or created for municipalities and which manage a municipal asset or fulfill a municipal responsibility,” Drover told municipalities.
Hollett said the purpose of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA) was to increase transparency and accountability of public bodies and elected officials, protect privacy and enable meaningful participation in democratic process.
“If people don’t have access to information, they can’t make meaningful choices when it comes to voting, deciding how they want to see their communities progress and things like that,” Hollett said.
Along with the ATIPPA revisions came an entirely new education system mandate for public bodies as well as the public, Hollett said. Guidelines, tip sheets, information, etectra can be found at www. oipc.nl.ca.
Key points of access to information requests
Following are the key points addressed at the MNL conference session on Nov. 6 regarding access to information requests.
• A public body has 20 working days to respond to an access to information request.
• An access to information request must be responded to and if the request is refused the reasons why must be explained to the applicant. If the applicant disagrees with the decision, they can appeal it with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).
• Municipalities and public bodies should always perform a public interest test which considers the public’s interest in the information. All the reasons why information should be released should be weighed against the reasons it shouldn’t and if the reasons to release it outweigh the reasons not to release it, then it has to be released.
• Concerns of privacy violations can also be directed to the OIPC.
• All records in the custody or control of a public body are subject to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA) including emails, post it notes, calendar entries, audio, video, voicemails, etcetera.