Privacy law: Government emails not subject to freedom of information laws

When a government employee uses his workplace email address to send and receive personal emails completely unrelated to his work, are those emails subject to disclosure to members of the public who request them under freedom of information legisation?  According to the Ontario Divisional Court, the answer is no.
In a recent privacy based ruling, that applies to all municipally regulated employees, the Court determined that emails unrelated to government business cannot be subject to disclosure to other members of the public.
The fact that emails are stored on the government’s computers does not mean that the emails should be considered public, according to the court.
“It can be confidently predicted that any government employee work works in an office setting will have stored, somewhere in that office, documents that have nothing whatsoever to do with his or her job, but which are purely personal in nature”
Ontari0’s privacy commissioner is seeking leave to appeal the ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeal, arguing that the legislation requires the government to disclose all information in its “control”. Until the Court of Appeal hears the case, government employees can rest assured that they cannot be compelled to disclose personal emails unrelated to their work, however damaging or harmful the information.
Daniel A. Lublin is an employment lawyer with Whitten & Lublin LLP.