Editorial for 07 November: Gaps in gov’t open records

We’re not sure if anyone within the Cayman Islands
government has realised this yet, but it is possible at this point – even with
the advent of the Freedom of Information Law – for the business of government
to be done entirely in secret.

All you need is to open your own private e-mail account or
start sending messages on your phone.

We’re not sure if this is the case with all 90 or so
government entities, but a recent response to an open records request sent by
the Caymanian Compass indicated that the Department of Tourism is one entity
that does not keep tabs on emails sent from government computers if the users
are sending them on private accounts. The department also does not keep track
of text messages sent from government phones.

The legislation governing the preservation of government
documents defines a “public record” very as “information, in any form, created,
received, or maintained by a public agency in the course of, or as evidence of,
a transaction or activity effected or undertaken in the conduct of its business
or affairs”.

According to this definition, if a civil servant or public
official were to use a personal e-mail account in order to conduct government
business, then those e-mails may well be considered public records. Similarly,
if a civil servant or public official were to conduct government business by
way of text messages, then those text messages would be public records. We’re
curious to know just how many public entities within the government would be
able to comply with requests for information that came in for private account
emails or cell phone text messages. We’d be willing to bet that not too many of
them would be able to provide this information simply because they’re not
bothering to keep track of it. Herein, we see one of the massive changes the
open records law has brought upon the country and its public sector.
Information is no longer just written records kept in a mouldy file folder in a
dark corner of an office; nor is it simply confined to electronic emails or
computerised databases. If this information is not retrievable, then the
question might well be asked: Is the business of public sector entities being
conducted behind the scenes on cell phones and private emails?