Issues with requests for open records via emails generated from external accounts being delivered through the government’s email have prompted an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The office said last week it would investigate a problem it had identified with certain government email accounts not being able to receive open records requests from email accounts outside of government.
Although government agencies are able to receive open records requests through the post and through hand-delivery, the majority of Freedom of Information queries received by public entities are made via email.
Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law, 2007, allows anyone in the world to request information and records from Cayman Islands government entities. The requests go through a consideration process that involves an appropriate appeals mechanism, if necessary.
One records request to the Ministry of Finance, filed on Sept. 13 by the Caymanian Compass, was never received by that office.
After a month passed with no response, the newspaper asked about the request and was told by the ministry that the email account the office was using to receive open records requests apparently accepted emails only from internal sources.
In other words, only requests sent via a “dot-gov” email would get through, but requests from gmail, yahoo or hotmail accounts would not.
In mid-October, the government Computer Services Department indicated that the access permissions to the ministry’s FOI email had to be changed to allow external emails to be forwarded to the group.
On Oct. 15, Deputy Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers emailed the Computer Services Department seeking to determine the scope of the email problems.
“If you believe the same permissions issue might affect the distribution of any of the other FOI…@gov.ky addresses, could you please address this as well?” Mr. Liebaers asked. “It is absolutely essential that all these addresses can receive external emails – they are by definition intended so that members of the general public can make an FOI request.”
Two weeks later, Mr. Liebaers said, he was informed that, essentially, no one was looking into the matter.
“We intend to investigate this further to verify whether the general FOI…@gov.ky emails actually reach real people,” he said.
Eventually, Mr. Liebaers said senior staff at computer services began looking into the issues with FOI request emails. However, the agency is still unaware how many outside emails may have gone awry.
“Some FOI…@gov.ky email addresses may still be linked to the wrong people, when an information manager [the person responsible for answering open records requests] is no longer in post, and such,” he said.
“The Information Commissioner’s Office is now planning a follow-up investigation in order to verify whether messages actually reach the information managers as intended.”