Information Commissioner's sta
Call for all-inclusive record-keeping in crisis
Social-media messages should be included in official documents as the island battles the Covid-19 crisis, the Information Commissioner said yesterday.
Gitanjali Gutierrez asked government officials to make sure that proper records were kept as people were forced to work on a remote basis.
She said that even WhatsApp and text messages should be included in documents when they are used to make decisions on behalf of the country.
Ms Gutierrez explained: “Every Bermudian and resident has a right to access public information.
“The Government and public authorities must ensure that this right is protected by taking appropriate steps now to make a record of decision-making and to have in place strong information-management practices.
“While physical offices are closed, many public officers are working from home and may be using private technology, such as personal telephones or computers. This has been essential for the continuity of public services.
“At the same time, senior leadership must ensure that public authorities create, retain and properly manage records that document their decisions and activities.
“For example, meeting minutes should be taken and kept, decisions made over personal WhatsApp or text messages ultimately should be recorded in the public authority’s records and officers must understand what records they should retain.”
Ms Gutierrez added: “As Information Commissioner, I commend the Government and public authorities for their proactive transparency during this crisis.
“Accurate public information and our collective response to it are crucial to ensure that Bermuda emerges from this pandemic as a stable and strong community.
“I further call on heads of public authorities to provide clear direction and guidance on how public information will be managed during this crisis, not only related to concerns about cybersecurity, but also with future public accountability in mind.”
Ms Gutierrez said that the Government had “established open communication” to make sure that the island responded well to the global pandemic.
She added: “During this crisis, future access to public information and record-keeping may not be at the forefront for leadership. Appropriately, their critical focus is on the immediate safety and health of Bermuda.”
She said: “A time will come for the full accounting of the decisions taken and the public funds committed by the Government to safeguard the community.
“Bermudians and residents may praise the Government’s response as life-saving or, alternatively, critique it as an overreaction.
“Critically, this dialogue will be based on engagement. One in which the Government has endeavoured to be as transparent as possible, and the public is evaluating Government’s decisions from an informed and involved perspective.
“Bermudians and residents will expect a complete understanding of the considerations, data, deliberations and policy decisions in response to Covid-19 that are shaping our future.”
Ms Gutierrez explained that the Public Access to Information Act remained operational and the authorities still had to comply with the legislation despite the crisis.
She added: “I recognise, however, that the majority of public authorities may not be operating at full capacity.
“I encourage Pati requesters and public authorities to be understanding, patient and exercise reasonable expectations during these unprecedented times.”
Ms Gutierrez said: “The Information Commissioner’s Office is available to assist the public or public authorities with any questions about the impact of the current crisis on their Pati rights and obligations.
“The right to access public records is more than a keystone for public accountability — it enables our community to reflect on, and understand, how and why decisions and actions were taken.
“This informs our ability to do even better in future crises.
“Our continuing growth as a country is only possible when the Government and other public authorities are fully transparent, respect good information management and uphold access to public information.”
To read the Information Commissioner’s statement in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”.
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