Skip to content

Red Deer County technology policy raises privacy concerns

Some councillors concerned policy on appropriate use of technology too open-ended
(Advocate file photo)

A new Red Deer County policy on the acceptable use of municipal technology comes too close to an invasion of privacy, some councillors argued on Tuesday.

Policy changes designed to ensure that elected officials use the county's technology "appropriately at all times when conducting county business" narrowly passed with a split 4-3 vote after a lengthy debate over its implications.

Councillors Dana Depalme, Christine Moore and Lonny Kennett voted against the policy, arguing it was too open-ended. By having councillors' private technology, including cellphones and other devices and personal Internet accounts subject to review the policy went beyond the intention of ensuring county technology was used appropriately.

The county does not provide cellphones or similar devices to councillors, so most conduct county business on personal cellphones using their own Internet. Councillors opposed the policy that opened all of their online activity, including email, text messages, voicemails and other internet activity to municipal review, whether it was county business or not.

Kennett said the county saves money by not providing cellphones to councillors and not reimbursing them for using their own cellphones. That now puts all private devices under county review.

"I'm sorry this is a policy too far," said Kennett. "I think it's too open and it's too easy to be abused at this point."

Should someone have an issue with a councillor, as the policy is written, a good lawyer could use it to justify examining all of a councillor's technology, he said.

Coun. Christine Moore said she totally supports elected officials being held to the highest standard of conduct but she believes the policy goes too far.

"I believe this is overreach. It's too open-ended and it's not fair."

Depalme agreed the policy as written potentially opens up all councillors' correspondence to scrutiny, whether it's county business or not .

"I will not support this as it stands in any way shape or form. It gives you access to my entire phone."

Samantha Rodwell, county legislative and information services manager, said the intent of the policy was to cover the appropriate use of county internet at Red Deer County Centre or other municipal sites and not meant as a blanket policy covering all councillors' communications and online activity through their own internet accounts.

Mayor Jim Wood said he supported the policy and believed council was going off on a tangent. The scenarios that concerned some councillors had to do with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act issues rather than those envisioned in the technology policy, he added.

Coun. Philip Massier said he was confident that the new policy, which has been vetted by the municipality's lawyer, would function as intended.

"I'm following the intent of the policy. Turning down the amendments means going back to the old policy, which was broken."



Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
Read more