Make government data and information open by default, in formats that are modern and easy to use.
Interim Policy Guidance
On May 5, 2016 the Interim Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act was issued to take quick action on revitalizing access to information.
The new Interim Directive enshrines the principle of "open by default."
It also directs all government institutions to ensure that whenever feasible, requestors will receive information in the format of their choice, including modern and easy to use formats.
Open by default
"Open by default" is a broad principle that means publicly releasing government data and information that is of value to Canadians, with information being withheld only for necessary privacy, confidentiality and security reasons.
The Directive on Open Government supports this principle and directs government institutions to release many types of data and information in open and reusable formats.
The Access to Information Act is also based on "the open by default" principle. It enables Canadians to access government data and information that has not been publicly released, subject only to limited and specific exceptions, such as national security, privacy and solicitor-client privilege.
Modern and easy to use formats
Previously, government institutions have sometimes released information to requestors in searchable and reusable formats when requested and when there were no privacy, confidentiality or security concerns. Requestors sometimes ask for the information in these formats so that they can electronically search, process and analyze the information.
But most often, information in response to an access to information request was released in paper format or in readable PDF format. This reflects both technological limitations and security considerations.
On the technology aspect, the software programs currently used by government institutions to process access to information requests rely on records being scanned into the software. The software then blacks out content on the scanned images to protect any information that has been withheld under the Act. The records are then given to the requestor in either PDF image or paper format. These formats prevent the black-out from being reversed to prevent privacy, confidentiality or security breaches.
Another consideration is the cost of providing records in the format asked for by the requestor, which at times can be very high, for example when records need to be converted into a new format.
These processes and considerations are consistent with Section 4(2.1) and Section 25 of the Access to Information Act and Subsection 8.1(1) of the Access to Information Regulations.
To be able to release documents in easier-to-use formats in all cases while protecting private, confidential or secure information, new processing software would need to be developed and adopted across the Government of Canada.
With that in mind, the new Interim Directive directs all institutions to ensure that whenever feasible, requestors will receive information in the format of their choice, including modern and easy to use formats.