Either the emails were deleted or they were archived on a drive or server to which the government and public have no access.
According to the province’s top IT staff members, these are the two reasons that two years of internal emails from a government employee involved with the e-gaming file could not be found.
The emails in question are those of Brad Mix, a former employee of Tourism P.E.I. who was involved in the e-gaming initiative. A report from the province’s information and privacy commissioner found that the deletion of Mix’s emails constituted a contravention of the province’s Archives and Records Act. The emails were the subject of a Freedom of Information request and related to a time period between 2010 and 2012.
Speaking before a special committee on records retention, John Brennan, director of business infrastructure services with the province’s IT Shared Services (ITSS) department, told MLAs government emails are usually archived for a period of 365 days. But Mix reported the missing emails to ITSS staff in March of 2015, three years after the time period in question.
“Scenarios that would relate to that would be the records were deleted and it passed the 365 days, which limited my ability to retrieve them or they were archived to a location off the network,” Brennan said.
Brennan did not suggest the emails were deliberately deleted. He also said IT staff could not have deleted the emails, as there is no record of IT staff accessing Mix’s account.
He noted that in 2015, provincial departments were in the midst of an upgrade of email archives. Those who obtained a new smartphone around this time were told by IT staff they could have no more than 5,000 emails in their government inbox. Emails in excess of that would have to be archived or deleted.
In 2019, Mix told Erin McGrath-Gaudet, deputy minister of economic growth, tourism and culture, that he believed the emails were wiped out during a mobile phone upgrade.
On Wednesday, Brennan was asked by PC MLA Sidney MacEwen if he had ever seen a loss of archived emails due to a mobile phone upgrade.
“No. The only thing I would say we've historically seen in the loss moving from phone to phone are contacts,” Brennan said.
He said contacts are often stored on a local device. Emails are retained on government mobility servers.
What was e-gaming?
- A government attempt to establish P.E.I. as a centre for regulating online gambling.
- Undertaken between 2009 and 2012.
- Abandoned after a lack of buy-in from other provinces, questionable legality concerning Indigenous jurisdiction.
- Subject of a $150-million lawsuit pursued against the province by CMT Inc.
The questions about the Mix emails have raised questions about transparency of government data. Mix was a named defendant in a $150-million lawsuit related to the e-gaming initiative. The lawsuit has been dismissed, but a decision on an appeal is pending.
Karen Rose, the province’s outgoing information and privacy commissioner, found there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the emails of Mix were deliberately removed, but also said the "the probability is small” that the emails “would accidentally go missing for precisely the period of time during which the e-gaming file was open."
During a previous meeting of the same committee, Rose told members of the committee she doubted MLAs would definitively find out what happened to the emails.
Peter Bevan-Baker raised several questions about overall IT oversight of government employee email accounts.
“An individual employee has the ability and the authority to permanently delete all of their records, by themselves, without any help or interference or oversight by ITSS, or anybody else in their department?” Bevan-Baker asked.
Brennan said emails are automatically archived as a back-up by ITSS. However, if an employee deletes an e-mail, the archived copy of it is deleted after 365 days unless ITSS staff are told to retain them. This means that they cannot be found later if a FOIPP request is filed or if an internal audit is requested.
Brennan said government departments are ultimately responsible for their data.
"Absolutely, government users have the ability to take independent action in relation to the deletion of records," he said.
Brennan added that the province is in the midst of preparing a request for proposals of a records management system that could “automatically classify” records for retention.
In an interview, Bevan-Baker said that although there have been IT improvements, current practices constitute a weakness of P.E.I.’s records retention practices.
“That one individual had the ability to do that is a huge gap in our records management and retention schedule in P.E.I.," Bevan-Baker said.
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- E-gaming plaintiff back in court to press P.E.I. government to release internal e-mails
- P.E.I. government can't explain loss of e-gaming emails
- UPDATED: Deleted e-gaming emails finally revealed by P.E.I. auditor general