While providing services to the public, municipalities are often required to collect, use and disclose personal information from and about their community members. Some information received and processed by municipalities is legally required to be made publicly available for the purposes of allowing public participation in decision-making and for maintaining transparency and accountability with respect to the activities of these institutions. Government transparency and access to information are vital to a free and functioning democratic society. Without them, the public cannot participate meaningfully in the democratic process.
Not surprisingly, municipalities are turning to the Internet as a means of making information public in an effort to improve accessibility, transparency and accountability. This can include publishing records directly to a municipality’s website or including records in searchable databases that can be accessed online. Publishing materials online is an effective means of ensuring that the public has access to a municipality’s information. However, when publicly available records include personal information, there are privacy implications that should be considered before that information is made available on the Internet.
Municipalities should balance the need to protect the privacy of their community members, in compliance with the provincial privacy legislation and the need to meet their other legislated obligations. The new guide Transparency, Privacy and the Internet: Municipal Balancing Acts describes a number of policy, procedural and technical options available to municipalities to mitigate the privacy risks associated with publishing personal information on the Internet.