It’s been over 60 working days since I first made my request to UBC for access to my personal data that was collected and stored through their Learning Management System (LMS), Blackboard Connect. Under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), public institutions are advised to comply with these requests within 30 business days, but may take an extra 30 business days if the request is large or difficult.
Originally, the Freedom of Information (FOI) assistant at UBC informed me that my request was extended into the additional 30 business days category because they were dealing with “a significant backlog.” One day later, the nature of the delay was due to the “large volume of responsive records” that they had received. They were therefore, “unable to provide [me] with a timeframe” in which I could reasonably expect to receive my personal data.
When the 60 working days had expired, I got back in touch with the FOI assistant and enquired about the progress of my request. I was denied a timeframe once again, and directed towards the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) should I wish to make a complaint, which I did. I phoned the OIPC and they agreed that I should place a complaint, which I also did. But I didn’t quite stop there.
As is evident if you’re reading this, I’ve been writing and publishing each step of my FOI journey. Up until last week, I hadn’t mentioned this to UBC’s FOI assistant. The fact that I intended to make my data publicly known, or that I was documenting the process, didn’t strike me as any of their concern. But I changed my mind after an experienced journalist—who has filed hundreds, if not thousands, of FOIs—suggested that informing the FOI assistant that I’m writing about the process may help to expedite my request. So I did that, which also seems to have encouraged them to hurry up.
My email correspondence quickly escalated from the desk of the FOI assistant to the desk of the FOI specialist, and I went from being “Bryan” to “Mr. Short” (a sure sign that you’re being heard). Anyways, I received a response that was much longer and more detailed about how the Office of Counsel deals with FOI requests and instructed me to “wait [my] turn like everybody else.” (From this I can only infer that everybody has to pester the Office of Counsel, complain to the OIPC, and yet still won’t receive their data within the legally mandated timeframe.) But ultimately, it has been suggested that I will receive my data this week.
The FOI specialist raised an interesting point while explaining why the request is taking so long; they said “that [my] request is not simple,” which I find very troubling. Electronic records of students’ personal information should be archived and searchable to provide students with access to their personal information, if they’re being stored in a manner that complies with FIPPA. Because these records have a profound impact on the lives of students—through grading and other forms of assessment and surveillance—they should be open and accessible to the inspection of students, should they feel a need to view them.
Hopefully, UBC’s Office of Counsel is able to use this exercise as an opportunity to either recommend improvements upon the existing record keeping system, or to suggest altogether stopping the collection and storage of personal information through the LMS. If UBC is not able to provide students with their personal information within a reasonable timeframe (of particular importance being that information that the LMS makes available for instructors when they’re assessing grades like participation) then the system is broken and, perhaps, operating outside of the law. And any grades that were assessed using the tools available to instructors in the LMS under these conditions, are highly suspect and should go under review.
When I receive my response, I’ll make it public and expose all of the data that UBC has collected and stored about me through their LMS, Blackboard Connect. I’m also going to scrutinize and compare what’s collected and stored against our privacy laws to ensure that UBC is operating legally. If there are any problems or discrepancies, which my previous blogs suggest there are, then I’ll be escalating the matter to the Chief Information Officer at UBC and getting back in touch with the OIPC to see how the privacy of UBC students can be better protected. This is my ultimate concern. And I wish it were for others, too.