Pati charge could create barrier to making requests, says ICO
The Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez has repeated her concerns about a proposal to introduce fees for requests under public access to information legislation.
Ms Gutierrez said during an online discussion that of 136 jurisdictions with Pati-style legislation, only a handful required applicants to pay a fee.
“Yes, there is a nominal fee in 14 jurisdictions,” she said. “That doesn’t mean it’s right for Bermuda when we have the highest cost of living in the world.
“It doesn’t fulfil the purposes of the Pati Act to make people jump through one more hoop.”
Ms Gutierrez added that some of the jurisdictions that did have a fee also had documents more easily accessible, meaning there was less of a need to make Pati requests.
She noted that some Pati requests had already led to increased accessibility in Bermuda, including lists of restaurant health ratings and licensed childcare providers.
“The part that concerns me the most is that creating a fee – even if it's a nominal fee – is going to create a practical barrier that very well may take this right away from a lot of Bermudians and residents,” she said.
Ms Gutierrez noted the high cost of living on the island, stating that the additional fee would create another burden on those who want to exercise their rights.
She also voiced concerns about the impact that the change would have on privacy.
Ms Gutierrez said she hoped the issue would be the subject of public consultation so the voices of the community were considered before the fees were implemented.
“This is a public right and certainly in other jurisdictions if you are going to lessen or change a right to public information, those are the kinds of things that usually go out to public consultation,” she said.
In his Budget, the Premier and Minister of Finance David Burt said the Government would launch a “nominal” fee for Pati requests – although the fee would not be applied to private individuals who seek information about the data the Government holds on them.
He said that a government authority spent more than $300,000 to respond to a single Pati request, although there were no details about the request or why it cost so much.
“I don’t have enough information about that figure to speak on it, but I hope that the basis for that is provided so we can answer questions and ensure that if this is happening, it doesn’t happen again,” said Ms Gutierrez.
“I would fully agree that public authorities need to process Pati requests in an efficient way. I don’t think that the answer to that is putting a fee on Pati requests.”
In response to questions on Thursday, she said some jurisdictions had a cap on how much could be spent for a Pati request, but such a rule was not included in Bermuda’s legislation.
“Some jurisdictions will tell you that they will process a request up to a certain dollar amount that it costs them and they won’t process it any more,” she said.
“The Pati Act takes a different approach. If you make a request that is going to take a lot to process or respond to, the first thing that the public authority needs to do is reach out to you and talk to you about it and see if they can make your request more manageable for them.
“If it’s going to cost so much that it’s really an interference with their day-to-day operations, they have that conversation with you, explain it, and you seek to amend that request so they can handle it.
“If that is unsuccessful, they can administratively deny your request because it’s going to interfere with their day-to-day operations.”
Ms Gutierrez said that one issue that had arisen was the quality of the record keeping and that when files were only in hard copy or not organised in a way to facilitate access to the information, it would create a greater burden.
“However, they still need to do it,” she said. “Otherwise it creates a disincentive for improving record keeping, and that is something the Government and government reform measures is working to improve.”