Search warrants released in breach of Nova Scotia freedom-of-information website

NS FOIPOP website has been shutdown.
NS FOIPOP website has been shutdown. Jeremy Keefe / Global News

Search warrants say a Nova Scotia civil servant told police somebody “hacked” into the province’s freedom-of-information website in a case investigators later dropped because there were no grounds to lay criminal charges.

The warrants, sworn by a Halifax Regional Police officer, were provided by the courts after an application by the Halifax Examiner.

They alleged that the teenager – whose identity is edited out – “used a software that penetrated the system an extensive number of times” in early March.

READ MORE: No apology from N.S. premier to teen cleared in privacy-breach case

However, the young man’s lawyer, David Fraser, says the young man only used simple, widely available software to collect documents he thought were public information.

Fraser said the youth never intended to scoop up people’s personal files or social insurance numbers, and this was due to a lack of proper security safeguards on the website.

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He said the search warrant uses loaded terms like “unlawfully,” “hacker” and “unusual requests.”

Such documents should be “just the facts,” Fraser said, but this one “is full of loaded terms, assumptions that have proven to be incorrect and adjectives that are uncalled for.”

As for the software used, Fraser said it’s a freely available software called Wget, which simply automates what a web browser does all the time.

“People who are very comfortable with the technology are able to ‘speak with computers’ in ways that might appear unusual to others, but are really simple and straightforward, but save time, effort and redundant clicking.”

WATCH: FOIPOP website still down as vendor contract nears expiration

FOIPOP website still down as vendor contract nears expiration
FOIPOP website still down as vendor contract nears expiration

Police arrested the young man on April 11 after searching his home, but three weeks later issued a news release to indicate “the 19-year-old who was arrested … did not have intent to commit a criminal offence.”

Halifax police said the youth was arrested under a rarely used section of the Criminal Code that prohibits the unauthorized use of a computer with fraudulent intent.

Opposition parties have asked the government to apologize for the way the premier suggested the youth stole the information. However, Premier Stephen McNeil did not offer an apology when asked this week if he’d do so, saying his government took appropriate steps.

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The search warrants say at one point 10,000 files were downloaded, but in another section say the person who “hacked” the site was “successful in accessing 7,675 files.”

READ MORE: Police will not charge 19-year-old involved in Nova Scotia data breach, close investigation

The police officer seeking the warrant told the justice of the peace that the documents were “unlawfully obtained and currently on an unsecured website,” and also claimed, “many of the documents obtained are very sensitive in nature and if released could pose a risk to those named within.”

A spokesman for the provincial government said in an email Thursday that the department of Internal Services followed its protocol and reported the breach to police in an effort to contain the data.

“Security staff provided the police with the information they had at the time. From there, the department co-operated with the investigation by responding to requests from police to provide information. The department respects their decision to not move forward with charges,” wrote Brian Taylor in an email.

“Staff continue to work to fix the problem and to make sure the site is secure and working properly before it is to go back online,” he added.

“There are multiple ongoing investigations into how this happened, including investigations by the Information and Privacy Commission and the auditor general. The department welcomes their feedback on how to better secure the private information of Nova Scotians.”

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Halifax police weren’t available for comment.

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