800,000 deleted government emails focus of privacy commissioner probe

Alberta’s privacy commissioner is investigating why 800,000 emails were deleted by employees in four government ministries.

In a letter to Nathan Cooper, who was then interim leader of the United Conservative Party, commissioner Jill Clayton said investigations have been opened into the Service Alberta, transportation, education and executive council ministries.

The UCP learned about the deleted emails through a freedom of information request. Cooper made a complaint to the privacy commissioner in late September.

“Since these emails are public record and belong to the people of Alberta, is there anyone on that side of the house that can explain how retention record policies were so deliberately ignored and almost a million emails permanently deleted from the public record?” Cooper asked in the assembly Tuesday. 

Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean said she welcomes the investigation as it gives the government a chance to review the rules with officials.

However, she downplayed the issue, saying most of the emails are inconsequential.

“When we talk about emails in particular … very few in terms of percentage actually constitute records for the government,” she said.

“There’s a good number that are just coupons from The Gap and that kind of things that we all get in our email inboxes.”

She said government employees are encouraged to delete emails that are not records of decisions because they take up server space.

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