October, 2000

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Listing Names on APEGGA's website: Balancing Privacy With a Right to Know

By Sue Evison, P.Eng.

he Internet is changing our lives. With a few clicks of the mouse, it now is possible to access information which once would have required us laboriously to thumb through paper files, city directories, or library card catalogues. In the past, the inconvenience of searching may have deterred some from ferreting out the information. The tedium of getting at the information may have served as a fence protecting our privacy.

Printed Register

Until 1997, APEGGA regularly prepared and printed a bound Membership Register listing members' names, designations, employment information, home address, and when and where they received their education. In so doing, APEGGA fulfilled its obligation under the Engineering, Geological and Geophysical Professions (EGGP) Act to maintain and make such a membership list available to the public. The printed register provided an important initial means for the public to confirm that those holding themselves out to be professional engineers, geologists and geophysicists indeed were registered in Alberta.

Printed catalogues have a number of drawbacks. Publishing them is costly. They also suffer from being out-of-date no sooner than they are printed.

The question of timeliness of information was not solved when, starting in June 1999, the Association made the membership list available on CD-ROM. However, producing a CD-ROM was less costly than printing a book.

Web Version

Given the advance of technology, the next logical step was to make a searchable register available on APEGGA's website. Council under Section 60 of APEGGA's General Regulations has the authority to decide the format of the register. At its February 2000 meeting, Council approved placing the register online. (Councillors reconfirmed that decision at their September meeting.) The policy was implemented in June when the membership list was posted on APEGGA's website. The postings occurred with strict provisions, including encrypting of the data to prevent unauthorized use of the list by mass mailing or advertising companies. The listed information was restricted to the following: a member's name; home address; professional designation; type of membership; place of employment; university degree(s) (and when obtained).

Let me stress this is much less than the information contained on APEGGA's internal membership data base.

Varied Reactions

Many queries have been forwarded regarding posting the Membership Register on the Web.
As engineers, geologists and geophysicists, we are aware that the introduction of new technologies will be greeted both by cheers and jeers. Elected officials and APEGGA staff have paid particular attention to the latter and we remain sensitive to members who wish to limit the information about them posted on the Web. If requested by a member, APEGGA will flag and remove the educational, employment and address information (or change to the work address). However, in order to meet our legal obligation of maintaining a register, we will continue to list names of members and their designation.

Unless notified, APEGGA assumes that a member does not object to the posting of the information now listed with his or her name.

As registered professionals, we have a public role. We are also individuals with personal lives and a right -- where appropriate and if we wish -- to keep that side of our lives private. As President -- backed by your Council -- I remain committed to protecting privacy while at the same time meeting our obligation to let the public know who we are.

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