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October 28, 2017 1:45 am

Hey, this information is free

Monday, November 2, 2015 @ 3:45 AM

By Bill Phillips 

Premier Christy Clark announced last week that provincial staff will stop deleting e-mails.

What’s not clear is whether she simply announced it or sent an e-mail to everyone. Ta-dum.

Joking aside, the issue of provincial staff deleting e-mails so they cannot be divulged to the public through a Freedom of Information request is reprehensible.

Just thinking of all the times we’ve heard “open and transparent” government over the past few years makes me want to gag. Governments, at all levels, are making it more and more difficult for the public to access information that is, well, public.

It speaks of a political culture in which protecting one’s butt and one’s political masters is paramount. Doing the right thing isn’t even an inkling of a thought.

Who, other than political staffers high in government and IT folks even know what triple-deleting an e-mail is, never mind knowing how to do it?

In addition, there is the perception. The obvious, and pretty much only, conclusion the public can draw when it hears about e-mails being routinely deleted is that they contained some damning information. They might not have, and likely didn’t, but routine deleting of e-mails leaves the impression there was something untoward in them.

Clark has demanded an end to the practice. However there are a couple of worrisome aspects of this (other than the practice itself).

Firstly, this was happening in the Premier’s Office … right under the nose of the premier. Is this to Clark what Nigel Wright is to Stephen Harper … damned if you do know what’s going on in your office, damned if you don’t?

Secondly, how will the public be assured the practice has stopped? Sadly, we will have to take the premier’s word and/or the word of those who have been deleting their e-mails. We won’t know for sure until someone files another Freedom of Information request … and then some.

Filing a Freedom of Information request looking for “deleted e-mails” really isn’t going to get anyone any answers.

It will take a concerted effort by someone outside government and/or an investigation by Freedom of Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham to ensure compliance.

It’s extremely discouraging to think that’s what it will take for our government to convince us that, from this day forward, public servants at the highest levels will be acting with integrity and in a scrupulous manner.

Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at billphillips1@mac.com



The solution is keep copies of all email that passes through the server. These copies would be kept outside of the email system, that is, not subject to deletion by users. Appoint an official as custodian of the copied emails, so that only this official has the authority to delete files from the email archive.

Hey, why not take a tour of the PMs or Premiers office? Hang out with them for a day and see just how much of their day is not scripted and already set forth a month in advance? Easy to say they should know what is going on in the office but if that same office sets their schedule how much of their day is actually spent there other than to say “hi” and “bye”? I don’t know exactly their schedule – but I bet most of the reporters and posters and bloggers who are slagging people don’t either. Maybe find that out first instead of reverting to the “what is happening inside their office” bit and speculating.

I agree, slinky. If some are worried about the deletion of e-mails, what about phone calls? Are all incoming and outgoing phone calls to be recorded and preserved, too? After all, aren’t they also all the “public’s” business as well? Where does it end? Does a Premier, Cabinet Ministers, and senior staff have to carry around a tape recorder with them at all times ~ sealed and tamper proof, of course, so that every utterance can be recorded and preserved? How could we track their passing of notes privately to someone? Have a camera worn on a headband at all times? Same for using sign language? I’m no fan of Christy Clark or the BC Liberals, but this whole business of trying to catch someone up to something they shouldn’t be is just ridiculous the way it’s going.

If Clark doesn’t actually know what’s going in her own office with respect to e-mail deletion issue, she is either blind or stupid. Denham, the information commissioner, chastised governmental practices relating to deleting e-mails (or lack of any kind of information trail relating to the workings of government) three times before this current situation. As much as I have no respect for Clark, I don’t think she’s a total idiot, which means she’s either complicit or hiding behind an insulating wall of complicit underlings.
Either way, it doesn’t take any speculation to see that some dodgy practices are going on in the premier’s office and elsewhere in government that effectively thwart any sense of accountability.

Triple deleting emails certainly has an ominous ring to it. However, the fact is that no information was deleted that cannot be retrieved by the system administrator. All you CSI watchers think of all the times that the police have seized computers and solved crimes when all the files have been deleted from hard drives. Random computer file audits would ensure that all staff follow the rules regarding deleting emails etc.

A simplistic solution would be to have the computer issue a ‘pink slip’ to any computer user who hits the ‘delete’ option. Copy to Denham’s office by e-mail of course. Curious to see who would receive the first ‘pink slip’.

The fiberals most likely got lessons from Clinton for email deletion.

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