Legalities

Perhaps the most pressing issue regarding access of archival records are legalities associated with the records. In Alberta, this includes FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act), PIPA (Personal Information Protection Act), copywrite and other legislation. FOIP and PIPA are the primary pieces of legislation restricting access to archival records. FOIP regulates an individual’s access to records held by a public body. The act ensures that people are able to access the records held by a public institution unless specified by the act (“Purposes of this act”). There are two parts to FOIP, the first deals with access to records held by a public institution, and the second part deals with rules regarding personal information privacy for records housed in a public institution (“Alberta's freedom of information and protection of privacy act”). While FOIP legislation may seem to repress access to records, that is not its intention. The goal of FOIP is to ensure that everyone has fair access to the records of a public institution (“Purposes of this act”). FOIP ensures access to all public records, apart from a few exceptions. If the information contained in the record would be harmful to the business of a third party, that information does not need to be provided. Similarly, if the disclosure of the record is harmful to an individual’s personal privacy, then the record should not be provided (“Disclosure harmful to business interests of a third party”). Law enforcement information protected by Federal law (“Disclosure harmful to personal privacy”), sensitive information discussed among an executive committee (“Cabinet and treasury board confidences”), and information subject to legal privilege (“Privileged information”) are also protected by FOIP. While FOIP may seem very restrictive regarding the amount of information an individual is able to access, in actuality it is a very fair piece of legislation. FOIP allows all individuals the ability to access public records, while only marginally limiting the types of information they are unable to access. Prior to the creation of FOIP, each government of Alberta ministry had their own procedures in place to protect their records. The creation of the FOIP legislation unified access to public records across Alberta and in some cases, better enabled the public to view records of a public institution.

PIPA is a piece of legislation that works as a companion to FOIP. “The purpose of this Act is to govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by organizations in a manner that recognizes both the right of an individual to have his or her personal information protected and the need of organizations to collect, use or disclose personal information for purposes that are reasonable” (“Purpose”). In many ways PIPA is very similar to FOIP; however, PIPA deals with records held by a private, not a public, institution. PIPA’s aim is to protect personal information held by a private organization. There are some sections of the act that relate strongly to archives. Some exceptions are made in the PIPA legislation when it is an archival record; these exceptions relate to dealing with the collection of records and disclosure of personal information. Information can be collected without consent if it is an archival institution and the records apply to research (“Collection without consent”). Also, personal information can be used without consent if it is used by an archive for research purposes (“Use without consent”). Like FOIP, PIPA tries to be as accommodating as possible, while still ensuring that an individuals’ privacy is being protected.

Another legality regarding records is the closing period for the records upon their creation; either before they reach an archive or the length of time before visitors of an archive are allowed to view a record. While closure periods are a major barrier to accessing records, some archives will allow a record to be viewed before the end of its closure period; however, only rarely and due to extenuating circumstances (Valge and Kibal 2007).