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Battle over contract secrecy back in court

Mar 08 2012
Margaret MacDiarmid: B.C. government is protecting people's private information. 

Margaret MacDiarmid: B.C. government is protecting people's private information.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

The B.C. government won't back down from a court battle to keep secret parts of a contract it signed with IBM.

The government will go to court today in Victoria to fight against a ruling from B.C.'s independent privacy commissioner that the 535-page contract, worth $300 million, should be released in full.

"Do you think the citizens of British Columbia would expect otherwise?" asked Margaret MacDiarmid, minister of labour, citizens' services and open government.

"If we really believe, which we do, that there's a considerable possibility of people's private information being jeopardized, then we have to defend that. That's the job of government and people expect us to do that."

It's unclear what private information is contained in the IBM contract, though MacDiarmid has previously described it as network service names and addresses that could make government vulnerable to hackers.

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association first asked for the IBM contract in 2004, and has been fighting appeals ever since. Much of it has been released, though there remain redacted pages.

The cost of the legal battle to taxpayers is already more than $124,000 for government (not including staff time) and more than an estimated $105,000 for the publicly funded privacy commissioner.

Critics have blasted government for wasting money and resources on a fight to withhold information they say should already be public.

"This has got to be the longest and most expensive [Freedom of Information] request in B.C. history," said Vincent Gogolek, executive director of B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, in a statement.

"The IBM contract has a 10-year term, so there is a real chance that this battle could still be going after the contract itself has expired."

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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