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Guide to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
What is the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act?
As the name suggests, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPP Act) has two main purposes
- Freedom of Information
To make public bodies more open and accountable by providing the public with a legislated right of access to government records, and
- Protection of Privacy
To protect your right to personal privacy by prohibiting the unauthorized collection, use or disclosure of your personal information by public bodies.
The FOIPP Act covers all provincial government public bodies, including government ministries and most government agencies, boards, commissions and Crown corporations.
The FOIPP Act also covers what is referred to as local public bodies such as municipalities, universities, colleges and school boards, hospitals and health boards as well as designated self-governing bodies of professional organizations such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Law Society of British Columbia, etc.
The FOIPP Act does not apply to the private sector, e.g., businesses or associations although certain records in the custody or control of businesses under contract to public bodies may be covered. For access to personal information in the private sector, see the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA).
The FOIPP Act provides you with the right to request access to your personal information that is held by government and, if you feel it is incorrect, the right to request that your personal information be corrected. If a public body does not agree with your proposed corrections, you have the right to have them added to your file.
How Can I Make a Request?
The FOIPP Act is not meant to replace existing means of obtaining information. Before you make a request using the FOIPP Act, be sure you have tried other, more informal means to obtain the information. Contact the organization that has the information you are seeking and ask for it directly from them. It is often the case that you can get the information you want in this informal way, without using the FOIPP Act. This informal route will often be faster for you and less expensive for public bodies to administer.
If you are not able to get the information you want through the informal route, and you still wish to make a request under the FOIPP Act, you must do so in writing.
You can either fill out a Request for Access to Records Form (PDF 27KB), available through any public body or Government Agent's office, or simply make your request in the form of a letter. A written request under the FOIPP Act can be mailed to or dropped off at any office of the public body to which you are making your request, however, your request may be handled faster if you direct it to the Director or Manager of Information and Privacy (D/MIP) responsible for that public body. Once your request has been received, the public body has 30 days to give you a response.
Is there a cost?
The FOIPP Act provides you with access to your own personal information free of charge. Access to all other information may be subject to a fee. Charges are based mainly on time spent searching and retrieving records, however, the FOIPP Act provides that the first three hours of search and retrieval time is free of charge. Each additional hour is charged at the rate prescribed in the regulations to the FOIPP Act. Charges also apply to photocopies.
It is helpful if you describe the records you want as well as you can, and limit your request to only the records you need. The more general or complex your request is, the longer it will take to process, and the greater the fees that may apply.
Even if you feel your request can only be handled as a formal request, it is still recommended that you speak to the information and privacy office of the public body that has the information you want. Staff at the public body can help you determine what records exist that answer your questions and how best to describe them.
What records can I request?
The FOIPP Act applies to all records in the custody or under the control of public bodies, including personal information. However, only in exceptional circumstances will access to someone else's personal information be provided to you.
Access to all other information is provided except where release of that information is prohibited by the FOIPP Act or its release would cause a specific harm. These exceptions to disclosure are listed in Sections 12 - 22 (see below).
What kind of a response can I expect?
You will receive the records you requested unless an exception applies to all or part of the record. If one or more of the exceptions to disclosure apply to parts of a record, a public body may remove or "sever" those parts but will release the remainder of the record. Severed information will appear as a blank space. If you receive a document from which information has been severed, the public body will indicate the reasons for severing the information, and the section(s) of the FOIPP Act it has relied upon to remove it.
If one or more of the exceptions to disclosure apply to the entire record, a public body may refuse access to the whole record.
The time spent by a public body reviewing and severing records is not charged to applicants.
What can I do if I am not satisfied with a public body's response to my request?
You can ask the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia to review a public body's decisions about your information request. The Commissioner's Office is independent of government and has the authority to review any matter relating to a public body's response to your request and to issue binding orders to resolve disputes.
What is the role of the Legislation, Privacy and Policy Branch?
The Legislation, Privacy and Policy Branch, Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), assists the minister responsible for the FOIPP Act by: leading strategic privacy initiatives across government; establishing government policy, standards and guidelines on access and privacy issues; providing services, support and leadership to assist ministries and local public bodies in complying with the FOIPP Act; providing leadership in the proactive release of information using web-based delivery tools and routine release strategies; providing input and advice on legislative proposals and reviews; and, supporting the provision of information and privacy training. The Knowledge Legislation, Privacy and Policy Branch also maintains the government Policy and Procedures Manual used by government ministries and local public bodies to interpret and administer the FOIPP Act.
Section 12: Cabinet Confidences
A provincial government public body must withhold information that would reveal Cabinet confidences. This section also allows local public bodies to withhold information that was discussed at closed-door (in camera) meetings.
Section 13: Advice or Recommendations
Section 13 allows a public body to withhold advice or recommendations.
Section 14: Legal Advice
In the same way that communications with your lawyer is confidential, Section 14 allows a public body to withhold communications between itself and its legal counsel.
Section 15: Law Enforcement
Public bodies may withhold information that would harm a law enforcement matter.
Section 16: Intergovernmental Relations
Matters which could harm the relations between B.C.'s levels of government and governments from other provinces and jurisdictions may be withheld under this section.
Section 17: Financial or Economic Harm
This section allows public bodies to withhold information which, if released, would cause financial or economic harm to the public body or to the government.
Section 18: Conservation of Heritage Sites
Information about heritage sites which would result in the exploitation or destruction of those sites can be withheld from disclosure.
Section 19: Harm to Individual or Public Safety
Information that could result in harm to any person's mental, physical or emotional health or to public safety can be withheld under this section.
Section 20: Information Soon to be Published
A public body may withhold information from an applicant if it had already planned to release or publish information within 60 days, or if it is already for sale to the public.
Section 21: Harm to Business Interests
Public bodies are often in possession of commercial or financial information of outside businesses and must withhold that information from an applicant if releasing it would cause harm to the business.
Section 22: Harm to Personal Privacy
Your personal information belongs to you, and except in very limited circumstances, public bodies must not release your information to anyone but you.