FOIP (abbr.): Un-blurring the lines between transparency and privacy

December, 2015

In this age of information and technology, the public’s right to know versus an individual’s right to privacy remains a hot topic. As a society, we expect full disclosure from public bodies and government officials, yet when it comes to ourselves and our families, we protect personal information at all costs. In Alberta, we’ve determined both points are equally valid and look to FOIP to draw the line in the canola.

What Is FOIP?

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act ensures public access to information, as well as an individual’s right to privacy. The act also ensures that our government remains open and accountable, and it determines how public bodies handle our personal information.

Who Does FOIP Affect?

Essentially, FOIP affects all Albertans. Introduced in the spring of 1994 and put into practice in the fall of 1995, FOIP originally applied only to provincial government bodies. Since then, the act has been updated to include school boards, post-secondary institutions, local governments and other public bodies (such as libraries, police services and some health care facilities).

FOIP Fundamentals

FOIP has five main principles, which are outlined in the act:

  1. To allow any person the right to access records held by a public body.
  2. To control how a public body collects, uses and discloses personal information from individuals.
  3. To allow individuals access to information about themselves that is held by a public body.
  4. To give individuals the right to request corrections to information about themselves that is held by a public body.
  5. To provide independent reviews of decisions made by a public body under FOIP legislation.

In 1995, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) was created to make sure FOIP’s principles are always being met. As the regulatory body for FOIP, OIPC looks into complaints made by people who disagree with decisions made by public bodies relating to FOIP legislation or who feel their personal information was handled in a way that violates the act.

How FOIP Affects You

If you think FOIP directly applies only to journalists, members of watchdog groups, the official opposition or public employees, you may be surprised. FOIP has probably popped up in your life more than you’ve noticed. For example, have you ever signed a release form allowing a third party (say, a potential employer) to contact the university you graduated from to verify your education credentials? They need your consent because of FOIP. Or maybe you followed and expressed opinions about former Premier Allison Redford’s spending practices when the story was trending last year? Many of the details in the news stories came from media FOIP requests.

FOIP Foils

After 20 years in Alberta, FOIP hasn’t been without its controversy. Journalists and opposing politicians have publicly expressed frustration with slow-moving responses to their FOIP requests. Plus, FOIP isn’t free. Processing a FOIP request costs both the individual filing the request and the public institution receiving the request. A general FOIP request can cost the person doing the filing as little as $25 or up to a few hundred dollars. The institution receiving the request takes on the bulk of the expense; processing costs can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per request. t8n

Did You Know? FOIP isn’t the only act that protects information and privacy in Alberta. The Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) is the FOIP of the private sector. PIPA ensures that businesses, non-profit organizations and professional regulatory organizations collect, use and disclose personal information appropriately and allows individuals access to their information.


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