Grace Information Management Blog

Canada’s information commissioner is calling for a ban on the use of instant messages by Government and Ministerial staff, claiming it is endangering the right of Canadians to official information.

In a special report to Parliament, Suzanne Legault, information commissioner of Canada, presented the findings of an investigation into the use of mobile devices and instant messaging in 11 federal institutions.

Unlike other forms of communication which are archived in a records management system, the investigation showed the text messages sent and received using the 98,000 government-issued BlackBerry smart phones were automatically deleted after 30 days.

“After investigating the use of wireless devices and instant messaging … I have concluded that there is a real risk that information that should be accessible by Canadians is being irremediably deleted or lost,” Legault said in a statement.

Legault said the risk of lost information is now greater after the Treasury Board secretariat proposed a policy that would allow the deletion of instant messages after only three days.

Legault has recommended a government-wide policy that would see instant messaging disabled on all government-issued wireless devices, with a few exceptions. She also argues that government departments should set up a way to automatically back up all messages.

“While technology is a powerful tool for innovation, its use must not infringe on the right of Canadians to know what government is doing and to hold it accountable for its decisions,” Legault said.

“If instant messages were treated in the Government of Canada in the same manner as emails, many of the concerns about the impact of instant messaging on access would be addressed. Instead, instant messages, for the most part, are not backed up on servers, are automatically deleted after a set period of time and are, as a result, not recoverable.”

In response, the Treasury Board President Tony Clement rejected the measures saying there are clear rules that if the instant message is to do with government business, it must be archived.

However, Legault firmly believes that the government shouldn’t be relying on individual employees to take the initiative to back up and store messages.

“The obligations in the government, and that includes ministers’ offices and the prime minister’s office, is any record of business value must be preserved,” said Legault.