Recently, I’ve been asked about resources for the Federal Access to Information Act and Privacy Act, known together as ATIP. This is how I actually get my records. This will be a fairly long post, and will have links to the proper sections, first the Privacy Act. (Sorry about formatting, this was rushed, and will be massaged into something more useful soon.)</em>
The Privacy Act is the act that entitles every person who is present in Canada to the information that the Canadian Government gathers from them. If you have done the following, the government has data on you:
- Filed Taxes</li>
- Registered to Vote</li>
- Had any interaction or have been investigated by the RCMP</li>
- Crossed a border in or out of Canada</li>
- Obtained a Passport</li>
- Applied for Employment Insurance</li>
- etc, etc</li>
It is virtually impossible for any person alive or dead in Canada to not have a piece of information in the Federal Government's computer somewhere, especially with the new RESP system, every child born in Canada will have a Social Insurance Number. Unless there's an ancient person out in the woods, or an undiscovered group of First Nations or Inuit in the Arctic, everyone in Canada has data. Now, most of the data is boring and existential, like you were born, or that you paid X amount in taxes, or that you entered Canada on a vacation, but if you're an Activist, chances are that you most likely have data in a Government database that you don't know about. There's also the fact that the Canadian Government is very big.
Step One: Which part of the government are you getting information from?
There are hundreds of agencies in Canada, including crown corporations, law enforcement and other entities, and each of those groups have their own ATIP Coordinator Office. This office is meant to assist the requester in getting the information they requested under the act, and the list</a> is maintained by the Treasury Board of Canada. The last one was Vic Toews, and he did a shit job. The current one is Tony Clement, and he's doing a much better job, and I will get into why I think he's doing a better job in a moment. This list has the ATIP coordinators and their mailing addresses. Pick the address of the requester, and then move on to the next step:
Step Two: Find the right forms</strong>
Different agencies have different forms, but to keep it simple, the majority of the Government of Canada uses the old PDF and RTF forms</a>. I personally choose PDF and use Inkscape</a> to fill out the form now that ATIPper is broken. (BTW, if someone fixes it for the latest rails version, or moves it to node, I'd be greatful). However, the RCMP have their own form on the web</a> and all you have to do is fill this form out and print it. The reason you have to print this form is because the law requires that you send this form via mail for a formal request.
Step Three: Find the right Infobank</strong>
The RCMP doesn't require an infobank, but other agencies will most likely require one to assist in the request. Infosource has a list of the basic banks, as well as the exempt ones</a>. Unfortunately, the most interesting banks are the ones with CSIS which include the personal records of people investigated by the RCMP Security Service. Any tales of people getting their CSIS file are most likely imaginary, since CSIS will flat-out deny giving you any information.
Step Four: Writing the request</strong>
The Personal Data request usually requires the following:
- Your Full Legal Name</li>
- Your Date of Birth</li>
- Photocopy of Government Issued ID (Passport) or an ID number of some kind </li>
- Timeframe of the Request</li>
- If RCMP: Detachment or Organizational Unit that your request would be under. For BC, files will be held at your detachment, or at "E" Division HQ. If Olympic related, V2010ISU-JIG. If G20, G8G20ISU-JIG.</li>
- If CBSA: Ports of Entry</li> </ul> You always want a copy of the records, and include an e-mail address and phone number for following up with the request. It is up to you whether you get the records by mail, or get them e-mailed to you, depending on what is in the records. This is your personal information after all. Step Five: Sign, Date and Send the Request</strong> Once the request is sent, you should receive a letter stating the that they have received your request. This indicates that the clock has started on the request, and you should get a response within 30 days. This will often be extended, depending on whether they find information that is sensitive which they have to redact, or whether they have to consult other agencies or third parties about the disclosure of this information. Also, this letter will have your file number for your request. Hang onto this, since this is a very important letter. Step Six: The Response and Compaints</strong> Once you finally get the response. Read over it and make sure that you understand and accept what you get. If the response looks lacklustre, or you did not receive a response, the first step is to contact the ATIP coordinator and quote the file number that you got from your acknowledgement letter. Chances are they can help you by finding more information. If they can't help you, and you are still not satisfied with what they say, you can then complain to the Privacy Commissioner. However, you only have 30 days to complain about a Privacy Act request once you receive it, and the complaint has to be well founded. I have never had a response to a complaint that I've sent to the Privacy Commissioner, so good luck with that. Access to Information Act</strong> Step One:</strong> Same as Privacy Act Step Two:</strong> Same as Privacy Act. RCMP ATI form is located here</a>. Step Three: Write cheque to the Receiver General of Canada for Five Dollars.</strong> Make sure to include what the request is about on the memo so you can track the cheque when it comes back. Step Four:</strong> Roughly the same, except you don't have to worry about infobank. Have a timeframe for the request, and provide as much detail as possible. Vague requests take longer, and cost you money, so try to give the ATIP analyst as much info as you can without incriminating yourself, or giving too much away. With certain requesters, such as the RCMP and CSIS, it's partly a game of cat and mouse, since you're trying to get information, and they're trying to walk on the fine line of giving information and protecting sensitive data. Also, with CSIS, start with things like the ITAC documents, or briefing notes, things that we know exist. I can give a breakdown later of how each department that I've dealt with works roughly. Step Five:</strong> Same as Privacy Act Step Six: Response and Complaints</strong> Some departments will charge for paper and some won't. In the past, I decided that if the fees are under $100, I will pay them, however I decided that it's the 21st Century and I can get a CD-ROM instead of having to spend the night with my All-in-One unit scanning tons of paper. Also, if you do a lot of requests, or talk to people who have a clue, you can get documents e-mailed to you. If you get quoted photocopying costs, complain to the Information Commissioner. If you get charged a "research fee", complain to the Information Commissioner. If your request is late, complain to the Info. Commissioner. I can talk about other things that can be challenged, but that's a separate issue. The thing with requesting documents is that it can eat up a lot of time if you do it often. It's also strange getting calls from Ottawa, or blocked calls when CSIS calls. The important thing to remember is that everyone is entitled to get this information from the government, and I recommend that people do so, since this is one of the few ways that you can easily fact check the news, or what the government is telling you.