A resident filed a complaint when Hargrave responded as a Minister to a government-related question using his personal email account
The Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner has recommended that MLA Joe Hargrave use best practices for the use of personal email for government-related activities after a complaint from a member of the public.
The commissioner’s report was released on March 23. The complaint was from May of last year.
The office of the commissioner received a complaint that Hargrave, as Minister responsible for STC, responded to a question using a personal email address. The Complainant had reached out to Hargrave at his saskparty.com email address, but got a response from a personal email address using sasktel.net.
The complainant was alarmed, claiming his privacy was breached by the minister using personal email and an unprotected server. He was also concerned about IT protections, freedom of information access and the repeated use of the sasktel.net address.
At the time, Ministers’ officers were exempted from the status of government institutions, and not subject to freedom of information rules. Those rules were changed in amendments that came into effect on January 1 of this year. That means the privacy commissioner didn’t have jurisdiction. Still, citing previous instances of people using personal email for government-related business, the commissioner offered best practices as advice to Hargrave.
At the time of the incident, Hargrave had three email accounts on one device his political party email was forwarding to his personal email account.
He was also experiencing technical problems where the device would lock up, prevent him from accessing his email and bringing accounts together. He said he sought IT assistance on multiple occasions, eventually reoving the accounts from the device and starting again with only his ministerial and MLA accounts on the device.
The commissioner’s office has been advised that Hargrave no longer has personal accounts on his ministerial device, and no accounts forward to any others.
“The Minister has dealt with the issue and removed his personal/business account from his ministerial device,” the commissioner’s report said.
“Citizens need to be assured that their personal information is not in the record holdings of a personal/business account. Neither should government records be.”
The commissioner said the email should be recovered and deleted from the personal account.
The issue came up last year when it was revealed then-premier Brad Wall used a personal email and a Sask. Party email account for government business. At that time, the commissioner encouraged government leaders and staff to use the government email system for government-related activities.
One of the issues, the commissioner said, is personal information could end up stores on email servers outside Canada if webmail services such as Gmail or Hotmail is used. Those emails are scanned and read to provide targeted advertising.
While the incident involving Hargrave was with a SaskTel account, some SaskTel data is also stored outside of Canada.
The commissioner said another issue is enforcing freedom of information and protection of privacy measures. If the email isn’t sent over the government email network, it can be harder to enforce both the privacy and the openness provisions of that legislation.
He advised that Hargrave take care to not use his personal/business email for government activities and ensure a clear separation. He also recommended that any outstanding government business on his Sask Party and Sasktel accounts be moved into government-controlled email systems, and then deleted from those other two accounts.
Hargrave was not available for comment, but a statement was forwarded from the Government of Saskatchewan.
“We thank the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner for their attention to this matter,” the statement said.
“As noted in the report, Premier Scott Moe has reminded all cabinet ministers about the importance of using government email addresses for all government business. This is the expectation for all ministers. If government business is sent by a member of the public to a personal email account for a minister, that email must be sent on to the minister’s government email address. We are also looking into further training opportunities for government staff on best practices for government email use, privacy and data protection.”