This is crazy.
Teen charged in Nova Scotia government breach says he had
'no malicious intent'
19-year-old says he believed documents were 'free to just
download' from province's FOIPOP web portal
Jack Julian · CBC News · Posted: Apr 16, 2018 5:21 PM AT |
Last Updated: April 16
The 19-year-old at the centre of a privacy breach on the
province's freedom-of-information portal says he thought the
documents he downloaded were public information. (Jonathan
The 19-year-old facing a criminal charge for downloading
files from Nova Scotia's freedom-of-information portal sits
in a sofa in his parent's living room in Halifax.
His bedroom is upstairs. That's where police found him
sleeping when 15 officers raided the family home last
His demeanour is polite, almost meek. When he speaks, his
voice is quiet. He could easily pass for younger than 19. "Computers have been a part of me for a very long time," he
The teen has been charged with "unauthorized use of a
computer," which carries a possible 10-year prison sentence,
for downloading approximately 7,000 freedom-of-information
On Friday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the
person who downloaded the documents 'stole' the information.
The vast majority of these files were already publicly
available, and had been redacted prior to release to remove
any personal information. But about 250 of the reports were prepared for Nova Scotians
requesting their own government files. These un-redacted
records contained sensitive personal information, and were
never intended for public release. The government has faced continued questions since it
announced the privacy breach last week.
On Friday, the premier accused the teenager of "stealing"
But in an interview with CBC News, the 19-year-old says he
thought he was downloading an archive of public information
that was supposed to be freely available on the internet.
The teenager has not been formally arraigned on the single
charge, so his name is not yet public.
At the family's request, CBC News is granting him anonymity
because of his hope the charge will be dropped and his
"I don't know if I'll be able to get a job if this gets on
my record.... I don't know what my future will be like," he
Some of the teenager's earliest memories involve playing
with MS Paint on the family computer.
When he was around eight, he remembered playing around with
the HTML of the Google search page, making the coloured
letters spell out his name.
Around the same time, his Grade 3 class adopted an animal at
a shelter, receiving an electronic adoption certificate.
Minister's lips sealed on access-to-information website
That led to a discovery on the classroom computer.
"The website had a number at the end, and I was able to
change the last digit of the number to a different number
and was able to see a certificate for someone else's animal
that they adopted," he said. "I thought that was
The teenager's current troubles arose because he used the
same trick on Nova Scotia's freedom-of-information portal,
downloading about 7,000 freedom-of-information requests.
He says his interest stemmed from the government's recent
labour troubles with teachers.
"I wanted more transparency on the teachers' dispute," he
After a few searches for teacher-related releases on the
provincial freedom-of-information portal, he didn't find
what he was looking for.
"A lot of them were just simple questions that people were
asking. Like some were information about Syrian refugees.
Others were about student grades and stuff like that," he
The teen said a single line of code was all it took to get
the information. (CBC)
So instead, he decided to download all the files to search
"I decided these are all transparency documents that the
government is displaying. I decided to download all of them
just to save," he said.
He says it took a single line of code and a few hours of
computer time to copy 7,000 freedom-of-information
"I didn't do anything to try to hide myself. I didn't think
any of this would be wrong if it's all public information.
Since it was public, I thought it was free to just download,
to save," he said.
Passion for archiving
It wasn't the first website the 19-year-old had saved for
He estimates he has around 30 terabytes of online data on
hard drives in his home, the equivalent of "millions" of web
He usually copies online forums such as 4chan and Reddit,
where posts are either quickly erased or can become
difficult to locate.
Teen charged after personal information exposed in Nova
Scotia government website breach
"I preserve things, I archive the internet. I have history
on my computer, and all of that should be saved and
preserved," he said.
His mother vouches for her son's passion for organizing,
even cataloguing his late grandfather's VHS collection of
home video and recordings off the television.
"I don't think he did anything wrong. He's a good boy and he
The family was going through its morning routine last
Wednesday when the police banged on the front door.
The mother says she, her husband, and two of her kids were
corralled in the living room.
"They read us our rights and told us not to talk," she
"Our daughter, she was really traumatized, really bad --
brought her to tears, the way they conducted this," said the
She says at one point there were 15 officers in the home.
"People were going into the kitchen, were going into the
dining room, going upstairs. They went into the basement.
They were [traipsing] through the house, everywhere," the
Supt. Jim Perrin said last week police rarely charge people
with unauthorized use of a computer, but that it was the
right offence in this case. (CBC)
She says the family is still working through the mess they
"They rifled through everything. They turned over
mattresses, they took drawers and emptied out drawers, they
went through personal papers, pictures," she said. "It was
totally devastating and traumatic."
She says police seized her son's computers, plus her
husband's cellphone and work computers, which has left him
unable to do his job.
They also seized her younger son's desktop computer, after
he was arrested on the street walking to high school.
Officers took her 13-year-old daughter to question her in a
"My little ones are asking, 'Will I be able to get a job
because we were arrested?'" she said.
The 19-year-old accused says he's been passing his time
watching TV and doing paper crosswords because he's not
allowed to access the internet.
He's worried he'll lose his academic year.
"I've been feeling kind of sick the whole past week. Haven't
been eating much. Haven't been doing much at all," he said.
He says this is his first time he's ever been in this kind
Concerns teen being 'railroaded' in privacy breach to
cover government slip
"I have never been in the legal system ever in my life....
This is the first time for me. All this is first, and it's
all new, and I don't know what to do."
The teenager says since he was downloading public records
off a public website, it all feels unfair.
"I just had no malicious intent and I shouldn't be charged
for this," he said.
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