ICO Investigation Opens Into PATI Confidentiality

May 18, 2015

[Updated] The Information Commissioner has confirmed she has opened an investigation after “being notified that a breach of a requester’s confidentiality may have occurred contrary to the Public Access to Information [PATI] Act.”

Background

On Friday [May 15] Public Works Minister Craig Cannonier told the House of Assembly that he was aware of a PATI request made by MP Walton Brown, which Mr Brown said is in violation of the PATI act which states the “identity of a requester shall be kept confidential.”

Mr Brown said, “The public must be concerned that a Cabinet Minister would place confidential information into the public domain, in violation of the laws of Bermuda,” while Minister Cannonier told Bernews he has apologised to Mr Brown for making the information public.

Section 12[4] of the PATI Act, which the Information Commissioner’s Office [ICO] cited in their statement today, says: “The identity of a requester shall be kept confidential and, except with the consent of the requester, may not be disclosed to any person other than a person who is required to deal with the request under this Act.”

You can read, and listen to, our initial coverage of the matter from Friday here.

Investigation By Information Commissioner

A statement today from the ICO said, “After being notified by a member of the public that a breach of a requester’s confidentiality may have occurred contrary to section 12[4] of the Public Access to Information [PATI] Act, the Information Commissioner opened an investigation pursuant to Section 57[3] of the Act on Friday, 15 May, 2015.

“Section 12[4] expressly requires those handling a PATI request to keep the name of the requester confidential from everyone except “a person who is required to deal with the request under this Act.”

“The PATI Act defines a clear structure for ensuring that public authorities comply with its provisions. Within this structure, the Information Commissioner’s role is to oversee compliance with obligations imposed upon public authorities by the Act.

“Pursuant to this responsibility, s. 57[3] of the Act empowers the Information Commissioner to initiate an investigation into the practices and procedures adopted by public authorities to facilitate their compliance with the Act.”

Commissioner Gutierrez’s Comments

Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez said, ”On Friday, I began speaking to individuals in the relevant public authorities. This particular request was initially submitted to one authority and then transferred to another one.

“The focus of the Information Commissioner’s investigation is to determine the process that was used in both offices to handle this request, to learn if and how a breach of confidentiality occurred and to identify any potential corrective measures that must be taken to ensure the public authority’s compliance with the PATI Act going forward.”

“A requester’s confidentiality is critically important in the PATI scheme to protect requesters from retaliation for filing PATI requests. While some requesters may be very open about their requests, other individuals will depend upon their names being held confidential. The public cannot linger in doubt about the ability of public authorities to protect the confidentiality of requesters,” further explained Commissioner Gutierrez.

“This is an entirely new law and procedure. We should expect that challenges will arise in this first year, including dealing with inadvertent or careless mistakes. The vast majority of these issues can be addressed through the appeals process, which includes an independent review by the Information Commissioner and the option of judicial review.

“But a breach of confidentiality cannot be undone. I am confident that this is understood now. The Information Commissioner’s ongoing investigation seeks to ensure that public authorities are implementing the appropriate training, policies and procedures to safeguard the public’s rights under the PATI Act as we move forward.”

In response to questions about individual accountability for violations of the Act, Commissioner Gutierrez noted, “It is correct that in addition to addressing broad issues of compliance enforcement and the correction of errors through internal and independent review, the PATI Act has several provisions creating offenses for the knowing contravention of the Act under specific circumstances.

“But at this stage, the vast majority of errors will be addressed through the review process, corrective training/re-training for particular individuals and improvements in public authorities’ policies and procedures.”

Update May 19, 10.31am – Walton Brown’s Response

Mr Brown said, “The Progressive Labour Party is pleased to see that the Information Commissioner has launched an investigation into the violation of the Public Access to Information Act by Public Works Minister Craig Cannonier.

“The public needs to feel confident that their identities will not be revealed if and when they submit PATI requests. This investigation is step one in ensuring this confidence is retained.”

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Comments (16)

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  1. Trulytruly says:

    Cannoneer is protected as it happened in the House. it was a wonderful slip to hear on Friday. It made Walton’s question redundant and petty. It was one of those moments.

    • Build a Better Bermuda says:

      It was a foolish slip up, Minister Cannonier should know better, it was also an entirely redundant question on Mr. brown’s part, one that could leave room for Minister Cannonier’s error, when he begins his question with, ‘in the spirit of PATI’ and had also earlier possibly elluded to having submitted a PATI request to Mr. Cannonier in an earlier conversation. Minister Cannonier, brush up on your laws and procedures, Mr. Brown, stop grand standing with question you know are redundant and wasting the House’s time.

  2. Never Never says:

    Craig don’t worry your premiere still owes you but remember this is your last wish don’t put your foot in your mouth again SMH what the hell is wrong with you lol lol lol hahahahaha this gets funnier by the minute

  3. Wonder Why says:

    Brown told lots of people he was going to request the information?! Not surprised Craig heard. If you want to keep a secret don’t tell everyone.

    • Rhonda says:

      A lie repeated million times, is still a lie

      • Edmund Spenser says:

        Look at the facts and listen to the exchange in the house. The request was made in person, kind of hard to remain anonymous when you show-up in person in a quasi-public place to make your request. You made it very public that you were the person making enquiries by releasing press statements and releases. You constantly ask if in accordance with PATI the information will be released in the house. It doesn’t take much of a rocket scientist to figure out a PATI request has been made when you get a request for your e-mail and any other correspondence on a specific topic and given the other circumstances it doesn’t take much of a rocket scientist to figure out who made the PATI request.
        The biggest issue I have is that Craig Cannonier should have known, based on the line of questions in the house and past practice that he was being set-up. The fact he hasn’t learned enough political maturity to keep his mouth shut when he is being set-up speaks volumes.

      • Kangoocar says:

        Yes Rhonda you should know!!! You have told many lies on these blogs, ( telling everyone that at the time You saw Min Dunkley driving a GP car soon after the election, which he quickly corrected you on this forum ) was one of many of your lies you have spewed on here!!! Now onto the matter at hand, bermuda is a small place and people have nothing else to do but talk all day so, it is no surprise the Min Cannonier found out especially sinse shallow min Browne said he was going to Pati !!!!!

  4. Make my day says:

    no doubt all this will be a result of the incompetent person they currently have at the Min of Public Works

    • I and I says:

      You mean the Minister?

      • Make my day says:

        No the PS for Public Works…poster child of incompetent civil servant promoted pass their abilities

  5. Jus' Askin' says:

    Nothing will come of this, as usual ;-)

  6. do better says:

    There’s been no training for Ministers around PATI. Very little proper training of civil servants as well.

  7. Alvin Williams says:

    For PATI to work there must be a semblance of confidentially; but seem not to have sunk in with this government in it’s efforts to stifle criticism of it’s policies. This was what minister Cannonier was attempting when he thought he would intimidate somebody by hinting that he has inside information or knows when the government is been criticize or investigated by the use of PATI. this is behind the spade of legal sues or threats of sues engaged in by OBA politicians. But this will not deter or lift the siege this government is under place there by the people. If anything it will only increase the growing distrust that the people of Bermuda have for this OBA government.

  8. stunned... says:

    the new PATI officer is on record expressing the fact that the law is new and that accidents will occur accidentally or through carelessness.

    steps are being taken to assess where the breach occurred so that training and corrective actions can be taken.

    it makes sense to me that until then all speculations on motive etc. really are unfounded. we pay good money for people do their jobs, let them go on with it please.

  9. Never Never says:

    This is really funny now Craig what does confidential mean to you stop giving Craig another pass he was dead wrong you know it Bermuda knows it he is incompetent we all know this why is he still there SMH we are paying his way too much $$$ Michael stop this defending wrong

  10. young leader in training says:

    Make an exampe of this situation Commissioner Gutierrez or else the Bermuda public will quickly distrust the PATI process. This will ultimately cause less use of PATI and disrupt the everyday person from participating in the democratic process. Bermuda will only move forward if government employees AND politicians can be held accountable.