Federal government plans to digitize overdue access to information system

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The federal government wants to “modernize” Canada’s access to information regime by replacing “paper or manual processes” with a more digitized system, according to a recently published call for tenders.

Canada’s Access to Information and Privacy Protection (ATIP) system has been criticized for being too slow to release information and too quick to heavily redact documents, problems that have only worsened the remote work during the pandemic.

According to Treasury Board Statistics.

READ MORE: More than 4,000 freedom of information complaints are still pending

The RFP – made public on Tuesday – seeks a company to provide pre-existing software to “modernize various request management software solutions used across the federal government.”

The current arrangement is not “flexible” enough and does not allow ministries to properly share information, tender notes.

The software sought should enable “significant efficiencies and administrative cost savings, to process ATIP requests and move away from existing siled, legacy and/or paper-based solutions.”

The software must also be capable of electronic redactions, pattern recognition and machine learning (artificial intelligence).

No company has submitted their name yet, but bidding is open until January 28.

Treasury Board — the department responsible for managing Canada’s ATIP system — did not provide comment by the publication deadline.

NDP Treasury Board Critic Blake Desjarlais says Canada’s ATIP system “isn’t working, both for departments and for requesters.”

“However, while we recognize that the ATIP process needs to be improved and streamlined, automating this process carries significant risks,” he told iPolitics in a statement.

“First, no public service jobs should be lost because of an algorithm. Second, we expect the Liberals to be clear on how the cuts will be made (in the future),” a- he declared.

Conservative Treasury Board spokesman Kelly McCauley said he was skeptical of any modernization effort, given the bureaucracy’s “culture of secrecy”, as described by the Privacy Commissioner. information Caroline Maynard.

“The new technology is not going to help at all, while the liberals are pushing a secrecy agenda,” McCauley said. “Until they take the problem seriously, even the biggest, newest, coolest (software) in the world won’t change or improve the situation.”

Dean Beeby, a former CBC and Canadian Press reporter who specializes in ATIP requests, said he’s also wary of any modernization efforts, given the government’s poor record on “reforms” like the Phoenix pay system, which deprived thousands of civil servants of their salaries, or paid them poorly.

But because it is “incredibly inefficient,” Beeby is strongly in favor of updating the ATIP system.

He said the government was right to seek out an existing product to solve the problem – what the tender called “commercial off the shelf”.

“They’re not asking that it be tailored to the particular (federal government) application,” he said. “We don’t want government experiments with software; it always leads to disaster.

“In other words, it has already been developed by a private company,” he added. “It has already proven itself in the field.

Using more advanced technology should speed up processing times and improve the ATIP system overall, but it will cause problems, Beeby said.

If artificial intelligence (AI) is used to suggest redactions, a real ATIP officer must be empowered to make the final decision. The public also needs to be able to inspect the software, so it’s “not a black box,” he said.

“You need to audit the decisions made by the AI, and you need to know the decision tree of the AI.”

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