Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ben Stewart stumbles on another privacy breach, this time linked to U.S. Homeland Security

So is poor Ben Stewart being kept in the dark by others in government, or is he keeping the public in the dark.
Stewart is the minister for citizen services and responsible for, among other things, the protection of the personal information every British Columbian has to share with government.
This week, the Times Colonist revealed another security breach.
They asked Stewart about it Thursday and he revealed little.
Someone in the Housing Ministry appeared to have sent sensitve personal information to an outside using government e-mail, he told reporter Rob Shaw.
"They were e-mailing files inappropriately from the office to another person," Stewart said. "We don't exactly know who this other individual is, but it's believed they could be in the United States."
"At least three" British Columbians have been sent letters warning their confidential information was compromised.
The Times Colonist report ended with a note inviting those who had received the letters or others with information to call the reporter. (The first story is here.)
And within 24 hours, the government revealed Stewart's version was, to put it kindly, incomplete.
On Friday, the government said the employee is accused of e-mailing the personal data to a U.S. border guard in Washington State - that is, an agent of the far-reaching Homeland Security apparatus. The government also believes the B.C. government employee and Homeland Security guard had a personal relationship. (The second story is here.)
So what the explanation for Stewart's public claim that the government didn't know who received the information, only that "it's believed they could be in the United States."
Since the next day the next day the government revealed it knew who the information had gone into and the person's job.
Was Stewart kept in the dark about the breach, which was discovered in September?
Or did he decide not to be open and accountable with the public?
Not just with the public.
The government identified the breach in September. It didn't notify the people at risk until November. And it didn't advise Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis, the legislative officer charged with investigating such incidents, until this month.
What's in the files? The Housing Ministry handles rent assistance for thousands of British Columbians; income assistance and disability benefits for thousands more. It runs gambling, so has files on lottery distributors, casino employees and crime investigations.
And now a U.S. border guard and perhaps Homeland Security have some of the same information.
There is another question for Stewart. The government knew about this beach at the same time he was offering misleading and incomplete answers about another privacy breach uncovered by Shaw and reporter Lindsay Kines that affected 1,400 British Columbians.
The government had known about that breach, and the risk of identity theft and fraud, since April - before the election.
But the information was kept secret, even from the people at risk, until November.
Stewart initially said he had learned of the breach two weeks earlier, leaving the impression the government had learned at the same time.
Only when the RCMP contradicted the claim did he provide more complete information.
Open and accountable government?
Or catch us if you can?


DPL said...

The Minister may very well have run a wine company but that doesn't meen he can run a ministry even when his own deputy reports to Gordo not the minister. The guy opens his mouth and starts looking like an inept person each time. Who else is getting their hands on our files?

Anonymous said...

This is just a case of the minister following the leader. They appear to be unable to tell the truth no matter what the situation.

Anonymous said...

And once again we overlook that it is one of the brothers and sisters in the BCGEU who are ultimately guilty of professional misconduct. Funny all this concern about security with privatization and it is the public sector that continue to let us down. Why no mention of the obvious Wilcocks ?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the reporter named Rob Shaw? (Not Ron.)

paul said...

Thanks, Anon. Fixed the typo.

Gary E said...

Anon 10:17
I didn't see anywhere in this report nor any other that said it was a member of the BCGEU.
Can you tell us where you got this information? Or are you just one of those people that likes to blame unions for all your own shortcomings. Or maybe you just work for the PAB.

Anonymous said...

Gary, the anon is mostly just guessing, making the mistaken conclusion that because the person is a government employee, that the person must be a unionized employee.

Never mind, of course, that managers are not unionized employees (and some are OIC appointees, after all); the previous privacy breach Paul refers to did involve managers (plural), although I haven't seen any reference to the status of the worker in this case.

None of this matters, in anon's fevered mind, because accountability - in this, the most open and accountable government in the history of the planet - certainly does not belong with the people actually running the show. This is why Gordon Campbell can be shown to be a bald-faced liar, but it's never his fault.