Thursday, November 11, 2010

Information Commissioner Calls for Alternative to CAIRS Access Database

The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada has concluded an investigation into the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS).

CAIRS was used by researchers, reporters and lawyers to track freedom of information requests made to Canadian federal government departments under the Access to Information Act.

The requirement for departments to update CAIRS was discontinued by the Conservative government, essentially making it obsolete.

According to the Information Commissioner:

"Although CAIRS was not originally designed for public use, the information contained in the database generates substantial and continued public interest. This has been confirmed by the creation of the non-governmental Online Democracy and CAIRS.info websites. We believe that advances in technology allow federal institutions to go much further in providing access to their information."

"Abolishing the requirement to update the information contained in CAIRS effectively eliminated a centralized source of information on access requests received by federal institutions. However, since the information is still available from institutions, the Office was unable to conclude that the policy change represented a denial of access under the Act (...)"

"In response to recommendations, the President of the Treasury Board indicated that TBS [Treasury Board Secretariat] would consult federal institutions and assess the associated resource implications. Consultations have commenced."

"Based on its discussions with TBS, the Office has noted a willingness to introduce a practice leading to the publication of access requests. TBS has taken a leadership role among federal institutions in posting the list of summaries of requests completed by TBS every month. The Office is confident that TBS will follow up on the recommendations on a government-wide basis"
Related Library Boy posts include:
  • Access to Information Database Updated to June 2005 (August 7, 2005): "Prof. Alasdair Roberts from Syracuse University has updated his Canadian access to information request database (...) According to Roberts, a former Queen's University scholar who has maintained the database since early 2002, this will be the last update. The page will not be maintained after August 31."
  • New Access to Information Database (April 15, 2006): "David McKie, an award-winning member of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's investigative reporting unit, has set up an access to information / freedom of information website that 'allows you to search a database of requests for information filed with departments and agencies of the Canadian government under Canada's Access to Information Act' (...) This website takes over from where Syracuse University professor Alasdair Roberts left off in August 2005."
  • Media Reports Government Wants to Can Access to Information Database (May 3, 2008): "The Toronto Star is reporting that the federal government is putting an end to the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS), an internal database of every request filed to all federal departments and agencies under the Access to Information Act (ATIA) ... CAIRS was seen by lawyers, reporters, and government watchdog groups as a very useful resource. They could mine the information in the database, approach government departments and request copies of already released documents."
  • Federal Access to Information Database Revived by Ottawa Law Prof (May 21, 2009): "University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist is trying to revive the CAIRS database that allowed researchers to track freedom of information requests made to Canadian federal government departments under the Access to Information Act (...) Prof. Geist is launching CAIRS.Info, a resource that will provide the same information that was contained in the original database and will be updated: 'The files include the wording of the original access to information request, date, department, file number and general information about whether the requester was with the media, business, academic or other. Once users have identified an access request that is of interest, they can ask the relevant government department for a copy of all disclosed records'."
[Source: Michael Geist's Blog]

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 8:05 pm

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