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Nova Scotia Arrests Teen Who Discovered Massive Government Data Breach

A Nova Scotia teenager woke up to 15 police officers raiding his home last Wednesday, after the 19-year-old discovered that the government had uploaded confidential documents to a publicly available database and then took measures to download them. 

They read us our rights and told us not to talk,” said his mother. 

The teen, whose name has been withheld prior to arraignment, was unsatisfied with an answer he received after filling a Freedom of Information request related to a provincial teachers’ dispute. He noticed, however, that the URL for the response ended in a long string of digits – and that by simply changing the number (adding or subtracting from it), he had access to other documents provided through similar FoI requests. 

I decided these are all transparency documents that the government is displaying. I decided to download all of them just to save,” the teen told CBC News. “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 added.

In response, he wrote a one-line program which grabbed approximately 7,000 public records in order to check them out – which led to the police raid in which authorities seized all the family’s electronics – including the phone and computer his father uses for income. 

They rifled through everything. They turned over mattresses, they took drawers and emptied out drawers, they went through personal papers, pictures,” said the teen’s mother. “It was totally devastating and traumatic.” 

The police also arrested one of the teen’s younger brothers as he was walking home from school. Officers also took his 13-year-old sister to question her in a police car. 

“My little ones are asking, ‘Will I be able to get a job because we were arrested?‘” said the mother. “Our daughter, she was really traumatized, really bad ó brought her to tears, the way they conducted this,” said the father.

“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,” added the mother.

“They rifled through everything. They turned over mattresses, they took drawers and emptied out drawers, they went through personal papers, pictures … It was totally devastating and traumatic.”

The 19-year-old faces criminal charges and a possible 10-year prison sentence.

This is eerily similar to what happened to Aaron Swartz when he downloaded millions of public court records with the intention of making them available for free — only to discover that the courts had routinely failed in their duty to redact sensitive information before making their transcripts available to the public.

When Aaron outed the US courts for failing to take due care with the documents they were meant to be published, revealing that criminals could have been stealing personal information and tracking stalking targets for decades, the FBI came after him.Boingboing.net

The Nova Scotia teen, charged with “unauthorized use of a computer,” says he’s been passing the time watching TV and doing paper crosswords because he’s no longer allowed to use the internet. He is also worried he’ll lose his academic year – which ends in eight weeks.

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 Wednesday morning.

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 said. –CBC.ca

On Friday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said that the teen “stole” the information, despite the fact that the vast majority of the files having been posted to a public space and redacted prior to release. That said, around 250 of the 7,000 records were prepared for Nova Scotians who requested their own government files – which included un-redacted records that contain sensitive personal information that was never meant for public release

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.”

“I preserve things, I archive the internet. I have history on my computer, and all of that should be saved and preserved,” said the teen – who estimates he has around 30 terabytes of online data on hard drives at his home – due to the fact that he has a habit of saving copies of online forums such as 4chan and Reddit, in which content can become difficult to locate over time

The CBC reports that 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 saved stuff.”

In addition to concerns over his academic progress, the teen also worries about how this will affect his job prospects. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a job if this gets on my record.Ö I don’t know what my future will be like,” he said. 

“I have never been in the legal system ever in my life.Ö This is the first time for me. All this is first, and it’s all new, and I don’t know what to do.”

I just had no malicious intent and I shouldn’t be charged for this.