Calgary Herald

Minister breached privacy laws

Personal emails to teachers lacked ‘transparen­cy’


Education Minister Jeff Johnson breached provincial privacy legislatio­n last year when he sent a mass message to thousands of teachers using personal email addresses gleaned from the Alberta Teacher Registry, the informatio­n and privacy commission­er ruled Thursday.

Johnson sent the email Feb. 6 to 34,328 teachers’ business and personal email addresses, sharing his thoughts on education and encouragin­g teachers to contact him.

He used the registrar’s teachers-certificat­ion contact list to send the email, and did so while school boards were negotiatin­g collective agreements with local teacher unions.

At the time, Johnson said the emails were a legitimate way to connect with teachers and had resulted in valuable feedback to his ministry.

“I certainly respect that there was a complaint and that there will be an investigat­ion, but until we’re told, ‘Hey, you made a mistake, you crossed the line,’ we’re going to keep doing it because there’s a lot of value in it,” Johnson said last year.

On Thursday, privacy commission­er Jill Clayton, whose investigat­ion was triggered after 34 recipients of the email filed complaints with her office, said that line had been crossed. “Even if you have the authority to share informatio­n, it is important to be upfront with people as to why their personal informatio­n is being collected and how it will be used,” Clayton said in a statement.

The personal email addresses had been collected by Alberta Education from teachers applying for certificat­ion and from school authoritie­s for updating the registry.

In her ruling, Clayton recommende­d personal email addresses be removed from the education minister’s mailing list, that future mass emails from the minister to teachers include the authority to use and disclose personal informatio­n, and for school authoritie­s to only include work-related emails in submission­s to Alberta Education.

“The heart of this matter is transparen­cy,” Clayton said. “This reduces the likelihood of complaints.”

In an email, Johnson said Alberta Education would review the commission­er’s ruling and develop a way to communicat­e with teachers — including by email — on work-related matters in line with the recommenda­tions.

“It’s important to remember that many teachers aren’t provided with a work email account and have to use their personal email address in a profession­al capacity,” he said. “They deserve to receive the same informatio­n provided to their colleagues. That being said, we’ll implement the commission­er’s recommenda­tions and come to a solution.”

Mark Ramsankur, president of the ATA, said if Johnson is determined to communicat­e directly with teachers he should do so in accordance with the regulation­s.

“It was clearly stated that pulling names off the registrar list, especially personal email, is not appropriat­e,” said Ramsankur. “If any government official feels that they can trample on the individual privacy rights of an Albertan, what are they saying?”

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