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City of Surrey app may allow residents to see who filed complaint against them

People are able to look for someone else’s complaints as long as they have their email address.
People are able to look for someone else’s complaints as long as they have their email address.

UPDATE: The City of Surrey says it has now disabled the email search function in the app, and will be launching a new app soon with an authentication system that prevents users from looking up each other’s email addresses.

An app created by the City of Surrey that allows residents to report a problem or submit a request may have made their complaints available to others.

Users are able to search for complaints by entering the email address of the person who filed them, meaning residents may be able to figure out exactly who filed a complaint against them.

Results found after typing the email address of Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner.
Results found after typing the email address of Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner.

“At first I was absolutely bewildered by it and couldn’t understand how in 2018 this would even be conceived as being something you would want to have happened,” Dermod Travis with Integrity BC said.

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He said allowing the public to access a resident’s complaints to the city could bring up personal disputes or vendettas.

“You may be very well putting someone’s well-being in danger by allowing others to be able to access the complaints that you filed against them at the city,” he said.

According to the City of Surrey, staff were not aware this was happening. But an email from a resident from May 2017 alerted them to the issue.

The email where a Surrey resident alerted the city to the problem.
The email where a Surrey resident alerted the city to the problem.

“We will be taking steps to remove this feature from the app and an update will be published shortly,” read a statement from the city.

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In an email to Global News, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC (OIPC), public bodies are required to make reasonable security arrangements to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use or disclosure.

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“There’s absolutely nothing that I’ve been able to identify on that site, on that app, that very clearly states your information will be publicly accessible even to the person that you are filling a complaint against,” Travis said.

He said it’s the city’s job to make it as difficult as possible for people to find out who filed a complaint against them, noting many people’s email addresses are easily available.

READ MORE: Largest data breach in B.C. could have been ‘completely preventable’: watchdog report

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“Surrey should be protecting its law-abiding citizens, not offering them up on a platter,” Travis said.

“They should’ve ensured that this was in harmony with their website privacy policy. Until it is, it shouldn’t be available to the public.”

The app was first launched in 2014.

~With files from Ben Dooley