Brief Overview of the FOIPOP Act
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act provides access to most records under the control of the provincial government while protecting the privacy of individuals who do not want their personal information made public.
The Act strives for balance between the public's right to know and an individual"s right to privacy. The Act supports the belief that every document, record or file held by government, regardless of format, is subject to release to the general public. Exemptions from release are few and narrow in their scope. These exemptions are designed to protect against the unreasonable invasion of personal privacy; to prevent unfair advantages occurring in commercial or government transactions; to protect law enforcement activities; and to safeguard the business conducted by government.
Cabinet documents are subject to release under certain conditions. Cabinet discussions, ten years or older, and background information, five years or older, must be released unless other restrictions apply.
The Act does not apply to the following kinds of information:
- Published information, material available for purchase, court records, and material that is a matter of public record;
- Archival material, including information at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, that has NOT been placed there by a government body;
- Records created or collected, by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, the Ombudsman or a Review Officer relating to their statutory functions;
- A record of a question that is to be used on an examination or test;
- A record relating to a prosecution if all proceedings are incomplete; and
- Private records deposited at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia.
Also, the Act does not apply to records of the Legislature.
The Act allows for the severing or extraction of information. If the information being sought is part of a record that is exempt from release but can be removed, then the information must be given to the applicant.
Collection of Personal Information
A government body cannot collect personal information unless legislated to do so or if stated in an act. It can be collected for the purpose of law enforcement. Personal information can also be collected if it relates directly to, and is necessary for, a government program.
Correction of Personal Information
The Act gives individuals the right to correct personal information about themselves (See Form 2, "Request for the Correction of Personal Information"). Proof must be provided before the information is corrected. It is noted on the individual"s record that changes were requested even if they were denied. Individuals have the right to appeal decisions if the requested changes were not made. (See Form 7, "Request for Review")
Use of Personal Information
Personal information collected by the province can only be used for the purpose(s) it was collected if the individual about whom the information is about gives permission for its use (See Form 4, Consent to Use Personal Information); or its use would not be considered an unreasonable invasion of privacy.
Release of Personal Information
Government bodies can disclose to an applicant certain types of personal information about a third party if the applicant has his or her written permission (See also: Form 3, "Consent to Disclosure of Information"). Information about government appointments or employment positions, travel expenses, salaries paid by a government body or about contracts made with a government body may be released to the applicant. Information may be released if there are compelling circumstances affecting anyone"s health or safety. A government body can release personal information without the prior approval of the individual if it is in the public interest. For example, the information must be about a risk of significant harm to the environment, health or safety of the public. (See Form 6, "Notice of Disclosure")
Under special circumstances, a government body may release personal information for research purposes. The researcher must have the written permission of the affected individual. The information requested must be necessary to the research and its release harmless to the individual. The research must benefit the public interest in some way. Also, certain conditions must be met providing for the security and confidentiality of the information. Form 5, "Agreement," is a contract between a government body and the researcher. It specifies what information is released and the strict conditions of its use.
A person may obtain information, providing the information requested is not exempted by the Act, if the following three conditions are met:
- The request is made in writing. The completion of Form 1, "Application for Access to Records," or a written letter is required. The letter must state the application is pursuant to the Act, be specific and contain all the necessary information. The form contains the section, "Request to Waive Fees," where applicants can state why they should receive the information without cost.
- The application must be specific, so that someone familiar with the subject matter can find the information. The application must contain payment of the application fee. (See FOIPOP Regulations Section 6 subsection 7)
Providing that the request for information has been directed to the right government body, it must be responded to within thirty days. If the information is not under the control of that government body, then the application will be directed to the appropriate office within ten days.
Delays in access to information may occur for example, if the record being sought is stored in electronic form, more time is needed to locate the information, or if the applicant has not provided enough information to find the records. Extensions of 30 or 60 days may be required.
Once an applicant is told they can have access to the requested information, they will be told of any applicable fees. When payment is received, the applicant can review the requested information. The way in which access will be provided will be stated in the reply. The name of a contact person will be provided.
If the request is refused, then reasons for the refusal will be clearly stated in the response. The applicant can, however, ask that this decision be reviewed. This request must be made using Form 7, "Request for Review." Decisions are reviewed by a review officer. They will recommend, to the head of the government body, whether or not to release the requested information. Departments are not obligated to follow the recommendations of the review officer.
If the applicant is unhappy with the result of the review, the decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. The completion of Form 10, "Appeal" has been provided for this purpose.
An applicant can choose to appeal the decision of a government body directly to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, without asking for a review by a review officer, if the information requested does not affect a third party or that person has given his or her permission to release that personal information. Form 9, "Appeal" has been provided for this purpose.
If a request for another person"s personal information has been made, that individual will be notified that an application has been made under the Act. Individuals will be told what the record contains and be given fourteen days to explain why the information should be withheld or give permission for its release. When a government body has decided to release personal information about a third party, despite his or her wish that it be withheld, that individual can appeal the decision. Form 8, "Request for Review" has been provided for this purpose. If the third party is unhappy with the decision of the appeal, they can appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Form 11, "Appeal" has been provided for this purpose.
An application fee of $5 must accompany each request. If more than two hours are needed to locate and retrieve the information, further charges may apply. Applicants will be given an estimate of the charges which are payable in advance.
Information may be provided without cost if the applicant cannot afford the fee or the record relates to a matter of public interest, including the environment, public health, safety, or for any other reason it is fair to excuse payment. If the request is for the applicant"s own personal information, there is no fee or charge.
[Please Note: For actual use of the procedures and forms, please refer to the Act and Regulations or contact a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act administrator.]
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