Information & Privacy Record Keeping Tips
Create records with access in mind
Faculty and staff should create records with the expectation that they could be the subject of an access request. Where feasible, organize records at the time of creation in ways that facilitate access.
Legal advice and policy recommendations are examples of items that can be withheld at the discretion of a senior manager. It is important for staff and faculty to ensure that they clearly identify such items in their correspondence, minutes of meetings, etc. If you are giving advice or recommendations, say so in the record. On the other hand, background discussions, staff and faculty opinions (not legal opinions) and other fact reporting that lead up to the policy recommendation are generally releasable. Always create records assuming someone will ask to see them.
Avoid quoting another person
As a general rule, faculty and staff should not be recording conversations by quoting those persons who made the comments. Quotations and the name of the person quoted are released under the Act unless they meet one of its specific exemptions.
For example, minutes of meetings should not record every discussion as verbatim. In most cases a concise and objective statement explaining the discussion topic and the decision reached is more than adequate. Don’t quote people unless they want their point “on the record” or if you need it to be on the record.
There will be times when staff and faculty should record someone’s exact words. Some examples are cases of harassment, legal opinions and personnel issues like employee discipline. Don’t collect (i.e. record) information you don’t need.
Don’t record subjective comments
Faculty and staff should not be recording unsubstantiated subjective evaluations in University records. This is especially true where comments or opinions are about another individual. Under the Act, these comments are considered to be the personal information of the individual they are about and, therefore, that individual has a right of access to them.
Be objective. Don’t write it down unless you are prepared to have it read.
Avoid putting transitory notes on file
The Act does not differentiate between an official file and an unofficial file. Any record in the University’s custody or control is accessible under the Act, official or otherwise. For example, faculty and staff should not put hastily scribbled notes from a telephone conversation on file until they have taken the time to re-write them removing all subjective comments or unneeded quotations. Further, once they have re-written the notes into the formal file faculty and staff should promptly destroy the transitory notes (scribbles), which are no longer needed.
Draft copies of memos/letters/reports are considered transitory records or records of temporary usefulness for a limited period of time. Draft copies should be recycled/shredded when the final copy is completed and approved. As long as they exist these drafts are part of the file and they can be requested under the FOIPOP Act.
Files that are particularly sensitive to FOIPOP requests include personnel files, student files, issue files, and appeal files. It is common practice to create a working file containing copies of all records relating to a particular issue/grievance/appeal. Care should be taken, within the working file, to separate administrative records from the issue records. For example, telephone messages and staff and faculty memos should be separated from correspondence, memos, or reports directly connected to the issue. Keep only the final version of your notes. Transitory notes, as they do not belong in the official file, should therefore be securely destroyed.
Manage your E-Mails
E-mail messages are University records and should be classified and converted to the storage medium most suitable for retention. Transitory e-mail messages may be deleted without conversion to another medium. E-mails related to the business of the University generated or received on personal devises are also University records.
E-Mails are accessible under the Act. To lessen the impact of FOIPOP requests for e-mails it is best to manage them as you create them or receive them. Any e-mail that should be filed according to the CBU records Retention Schedule (i.e. have value, are not transitory in nature) should be stored in the unit’s electronic records management system (permanent files) or be printed out, filed as paper and deleted from the e-mail system. Transitory e-mails should be deleted when read or sent. If e-mail is deleted from the local computer, it is the equivalent of shredded records or records put in a recycling bin. Any central back-up of e-mail is for purposes of disaster recovery only, and not for recovery of specific items of deleted e-mail for freedom of information access requests.
Where staff and faculty wants to retain e-mail on the system for office business it should still be printed to a hard copy file where it’s not transitory in nature. E-mail messages are records and accessible under FOIPOP. Manage them like any other record.
Perform regular records management
Conduct an inventory of your office files annually. Please reference the CBU Records Retention Schedule and contact staff of the Beaton Institute for assistance.
Staff and faculty must prepare detailed file lists of records sent to storage and/or the archives. Detailed lists will make it easier to locate those records later. The Act is retroactive so it covers records created before the Act was law, at a time when staff and faculty had no idea the information would ever be released. Remember: Embarrassment is not an exemption.
Treat confidential material accordingly
Establish security standards to ensure that records containing information requiring protection are clearly marked CONFIDENTIAL and treated accordingly. Although a CONFIDENTIAL marking doesn’t mean a record won’t be released under the Act, it does provide strong evidence when we are defending why we wouldn’t release a document. A word of caution: don’t automatically stamp every record as “confidential” as this practice can work against you and your clients by lessening the defense of a “confidential” stamp when it is really needed.
By handling requests for information quickly, informally and in the spirit of openness, you may be able to avoid formal FOIPOP requests which are time consuming and costly.