Info commish pressed into service
New act sets rules for handling government information

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 14/97) - The rules governing how government information is managed are clearer now than ever.

The territorial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act came into effect at the start of this year.

As its name indicates, the act serves two distinct purposes: regulating access to and disclosure of information about individuals, and providing guidelines for access to government records.

Initial responsibility for administering the act falls to co-ordinators in each government department.

But the decisions of those co-ordinators can be appealed to part-time Information and Privacy commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts.

"It may be a matter of mediating between the two parties, discussing what can and can't be released," said Bengts in an interview. "It may be a matter of making a decision in much the same way as a judge makes a decision in a court case."

Approximately 12 requests for information have been filed since the start of this year, said Gerry Sutton, who as director of policy and planning for the Department of Justice, which is responsible for implementing the Act.

"The public should be as precise as possible when making requests," advised Sutton.

One of the requests is already awaiting review by Bengts.

The process of filing a request is outlined in a small pamphlet which, along with application forms and an access and privacy directory, is available at government offices, public libraries and MLA constituency offices.

Access to an applicant's personal information is usually free. However, there is a basic fee of $25 for requests for non-personal information.

Fees for both types of requests can increase with the amount of time it takes to search and process the relevant information.

The first step in making a request is calling or writing the co-ordinator for the department you believe has the information you want.

Once it has been established which department has the information, a form or letter must be sent describing, as accurately as possible, the information required.

The co-ordinator has 30 days to respond to the written request.

If the response is unsatisfactory, a review can be requested by contacting the commissioner at the legislative assembly.

The commissioner is not required to review all requests -- she can ignore those she deems frivolous. But once a review is undertaken it must be completed within 180 days.