We live in a complex world with a multitude of rules and regulations. From the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, our actions are regulated by tens of thousands of laws. If this wasn't enough, our actions as employees of Athabasca University (AU) are subject to additional regulation, specifically laws governing access to information and privacy. Fortunately, you only have to remember two key principles:
The Government of Alberta proclaimed the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act in October 1995. At that time, the FOIP Act was applicable to all provincial departments. The FOIP Act was extended to include post-secondary institutions on September 1, 1999.
The FOIP Act did not fundamentally change the way AU manages records. However, it did give persons who have been denied information an additional avenue for access and a process to adjudicate concerns about protection of personal information.
The FOIP Act is based on five fundamental principles:
Access to information is the first component of the FOIP Act. The access provisions apply to all records for which AU has custody or control. This includes material that is written, photographed, recorded or stored in any manner. Documents may be in hard-copy, electronic, digital, audio or visual formats.
Some records are excluded from the FOIP Act. Questions to be used in an examination, teaching materials and research information are some pertinent examples of excluded records.
Keep in mind that records you create in the course of your employment are AU records and can be potentially viewed by an unlimited audience. Embarrassment is not a reason to withhold records, so please rely on both your good sense and taste when recording records. Since AU has limited discretion when disclosing records, the rule of thumb to follow is to assume that all records you create will appear on the front page of a major newspaper.
AU has always made information available to students, employees, and community members. In most cases, records can and should be disclosed. Caution is necessary when the record in question contains sensitive/confidential information or when a person requests information about another person. If you have doubts about disclosure, please contact the FOIP Coordinator. It is better to delay disclosure and seek confirmation than to inappropriately/illegally disclose information.
Protection of an individual's personal information is the second component of the FOIP Act. Personal information held by AU is protected from unauthorized collection, use and disclosure. Personal information, for the purposes of the FOIP Act is defined as any recorded information about an identifiable individual. Some examples of types of personal information include name, marital status, age, educational history and student identification number.
The FOIP Act requires that reasonable measures and safeguards be maintained by AU to ensure that personal information is secure and access within AU is restricted to a "need to know" basis only.
The FOIP Act places accountability on AU for how records and information management systems are maintained. When responding to requests, records will have to be retrieved in an accurate and timely manner. Requests made under the FOIP Act have a specific time limitation within which AU must respond.
AU has a Records Management Program that provides services as follows:
For information on FOIP, contact the FOIP Coordinator. Further FOIP information and applicable policies are also found on the AU FOIP website at www.athabascau.ca/foipp. Information about records management practices can be obtained from the University Archivist.
Office of the University Secretariat, July 2006
Updated May 30 2014 by Office of the University Secretariat