Governmental Secrecy in Newfoundland and Labrador

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Privacy and Secrecy

A government that truly looked after the best interests of its people wouldn't worry about secrecy. Conversely, an abusive regime that does things that would outrage the public requires the population to be ignorant and secrecy is necessary to prevent losing power in a revolt.

While people should have extreme privacy, governments should be the opposite and require complete transparency.

Everything should be public by default. There are however things that do need privacy, especially personal information and items that would that cause harm to to individuals or companies and provide no real value to the general public. For example, the following might be private:

What Should be Public

Everything required to ensure that the elected government is not corrupt should be freely available. For example:

One obvious side effect of this would be an explosion in the use of Blackberry Private Messaging to circumvent the e-mail system, deleting mails and emptying the trash before 5pm to avoid the backup, the use of paper shredders to shred everything and passing around documents in encrypted flash drives. All this happens now.

Analysis of Bill 29

The full text is here. There are many things in the bill that are reasonable -- for example, you wouldn't release ongoing police investigations. Below I will list things that should not exist outside of dictatorships:

3. Section 7 of the Act is amended by adding immediately after subsection (3) the following:

(4) The right of access does not extend

(a) to a record created solely for the purpose of briefing a member of the Executive Council with respect to assuming responsibility for a department, secretariat or agency; or

(b) to a record created solely for the purpose of briefing a member of the Executive Council in preparation for a sitting of the House of Assembly.

The briefing notes and documents provided to members are very much of interest to the public. If for example, the department of the environment is against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and cites ground water pollution then we want to know - especially since official policy might be the opposite. The obvious question would be why go against the guidance of your departments? Is there corruption involved? On the other hand, if the department actually recommended this position, then we have an entirely different problem.

16. (1) The head of a public body may extend the time for responding to a request for up to an additional 30 days where

(a)  the applicant does not give sufficient details to enable the public body to identify the requested record;

(b)  a large number of records is requested or must be searched, and responding within the time period in section 11 would interfere unreasonably with the operations of the public body;

16b is a problem because the term "large number" can be abused. If you export a million records from a database with a single menu option into a spreadsheet, is that one operation, or a million records? Is it a million concurrent requests?

18. (1) In this section

(a)  "cabinet record" means

(i)  advice, recommendations or policy considerations submitted or prepared for submission to the Cabinet,

(ii)  draft legislation or regulations submitted or prepared for submission to the Cabinet,

(iii)  a memorandum, the purpose of which is to present proposals or recommendations to the Cabinet,

(iv)  a discussion paper, policy analysis, proposal, advice or briefing material, including all factual and background material prepared for the Cabinet,

(v)  an agenda, minute or other record of Cabinet recording deliberations or decisions of the Cabinet,

(vi)  a record used for or which reflects communications or discussions among ministers on matters relating to the making of government decisions or the formulation of government policy,

(vii)  a record created for or by a minister for the purpose of briefing that minister on a matter for the Cabinet,

(viii)  a record created during the process of developing or preparing a submission for the Cabinet, or

(ix)  that portion of a record which contains information about the contents of a record within a class of information referred to in subparagraphs (i) to (viii);

(b)  "discontinued cabinet record" means a cabinet record referred to in paragraph (a) the original intent of which was to inform the Cabinet process, but which is neither a supporting Cabinet record nor an official Cabinet record;

(c)  "official cabinet record" means a cabinet record referred to in paragraph (a) which has been prepared for and considered in a meeting of the Cabinet; and

(d)  "supporting cabinet record" means a Cabinet record referred to in paragraph (a) which informs the Cabinet process, but which is not an official cabinet record.

(2)  The head of a public body shall refuse to disclose to an applicant a Cabinet record, including 

(a)  an official Cabinet record;

(b)  a discontinued Cabinet record; and

(c)  a supporting Cabinet record.

The above is basically everything the public wants to know. There is no doubt that if we did indeed have this information, or were that proverbial fly on the wall, we would be outraged and the political party would be decimated in the next election.

Cabinet decisions (e.g. Muskrat Falls, budgets, new laws) have a direct impact on our lives. The money being spent was taken from the public via taxes with expectation that would be spent wisely. Government borrowing results in interest payments long after the politicians are out of office. Laws may have been drafted by special interest groups for rubber stamping. For these reasons alone, the analysis provided to cabinet by governmental departments as well as anything else that allows the public to perform as a shadow cabinet is absolutely necessary to prevent corruption or being usurped by sociopaths.

The ultimate insult though is forbidding the Auditor General access to these documents. What could be so secret and damning that even the auditor general is forbidden access?

19. (1) Notwithstanding sections 17 and 18, the auditor general shall not be permitted to access records referred to in section 18 ofthe Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act where the Clerk of the Executive Council or his or her delegate has certified that release of those records would involve the disclosure of

(a)  the deliberations of the Executive Council or a committee of the Executive Council;