Nearly a year after the provincial government first came under fire when thousands of documents were downloaded in a massive data breach, MLAs say they are cognizant of the dangers of poor cybersecurity but that no concerted effort is being made toward strengthening the safety of their online activities.
On Wednesday, the day after Nova Scotia’s auditor general’s latest report was released, Michael Pickup met with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
Pickup’s report, released alongside Information and Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully’s, was particularly damning in the way the Department of Internal Services overlooked vulnerabilities in their Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) website.
The government accepted all of the recommendations made in the reports and has outlined an action plan to right the ship before the portal was fully brought back online.
“I think we’ve all taken this data breach very seriously as government,” said Gordon Wilson, Liberal MLA for Clare-Digby.
“Certainly, looking at the report today emphasized the fact that we need to take it seriously, so yes, government has taken it very seriously.”
All of the elected officials on the committee were unanimous about the need for a serious strategy around cybersecurity but when questioned, no one would go as far as to indicate any meetings, discussions or otherwise had been undertaken as part of an effort to increase cybersecurity in government ranks.
“I believe that cybersecurity is important and I know that my colleagues on all sides of the house would agree,” said Liberal MLA Ben Jessome.
WATCH: McNeil defends right to ignore request from privacy commissioner
For opposition MLAs, there’s no denying the potential severity of a cybersecurity attack which they say underscores the need for government to lead the way into a fast-moving digital world.
“If this province is moving towards in our health-care system, one patient, one file, it is imperative government gets this right,” said PC MLA Tim Halman.
“Part of the role of government is to protect its citizens,” Halman said.
“Citizens do not have an option but to share their information with the government,” explained NDP MLA Lisa Roberts. “In some of these cases where this privacy breach had a real impact, we’re talking about people’s experiences with child protection services, for example, and obviously, there’s also our tax information.”
Though government MLAs defend how online activity is being handled and say they understand the increased importance of security when dealing with personal information, some say the ordeal can be used to teach a valuable lesson to those inside and outside Province House.
“I think we all need to be aware of what we put online, nothing is 100 per cent secure,” explained Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire. “So it is a learning experience.”
“We all have a responsibility to protect our privacy and I think going forward, people will have their eyes open and discern things a little more carefully,” said Liberal MLA Suzanne Lohnes-Croft.