A serious privacy breach has been discovered with the New Brunswick voters list, Premier David Alward informed the legislative assembly on Wednesday morning.
Alward referred to the privacy breach as a "serious incident." He called it a "human error."
Alward told the legislature that Elections NB distributed a computer disc containing private information about voters, including phone numbers and driver's licence numbers to New Brunswick’s political parties.
Alward said there is no suggestion that any members of political parties have acted improperly.
"This incident appears to be case of human error on the part of the voter information systems manager at Elections New Brunswick. As a result, we the members of this assembly have been given something we should not have, something which does not properly belong to us. And so we will give it back," Alward said.
"The independence of the chief electoral officer is essential to ensuring our democratic system and so I do not wish in any way to compromise that. That said, I know all members are very concerned with this serious incident and we will expect a full investigation and report.
"If further measures need to be taken to ensure the security of New Brunswickers' data, rest assured that we will not hesitate to do so."
'I deeply regret having made this error. I feel the error was made and it affects the office, and for that ... I obviously take full responsibility and feel badly that it occurred.' — Ron Armitage, Elections New Brunswick
Ron Armitage, the manager of voter information systems, also appeared at an afternoon news conference to apologize for the error.
"I deeply regret having made this error. I feel the error was made and it affects the office, and for that ... I obviously take full responsibility and feel badly that it occurred," he said.
Armitage said the additional information was used at Elections New Brunswick to make sure the list was accurate.
Michael Quinn, the province's chief electoral officer, said the number of copies of the voters lists with the extra information is limited.
Each of the 55 MLAs would have received a copy of the voters list for their specific riding. The party offices received a list with electors in all 55 ridings.
"I think the part about this that lessens it is, is that it was to 55 elected representatives, all of whom signed confidentiality agreements," Quinn said.
There are 553,000 people on the voters list, said Quinn. He estimates 90 per cent of the names on the list included a driver's licence number and a "very high percentage" would have also included a date of birth.
However, a smaller number would have also included a phone number.
Quinn said from now on, a second set of eyes will look at data discs before they're sent out.
Assistant discovered breach
Alward told the legislature the privacy breach was discovered by the executive assistant to Economic Development Minister Paul Robichaud.
He said the assistant opened a copy of the voters list, which was provided by Elections New Brunswick, at 3 p.m.
The assistant noticed the database included more fields than usual, including the driver's licence numbers, date of birth of some voters and some telephone numbers.
The assistant immediately contacted Robichaud, who then advised him to contact the Office of the Premier.
"Upon quickly looking into the matter, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer verified that their voter information systems manager had sent the wrong version of the document to the offices of MLAs and to that of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Liberal Party," Alward said.
"This amounts to an accidental but nonetheless a serious departure of proper procedure. Driver’s licence numbers and dates of birth are not authorized for disclosure to members of this legislative assembly, and as such this disclosure is a violation of the privacy of individuals involved."
Alward said all copies are being returned to the electoral office. He also said any copies will be destroyed or erased.
Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau, who is the interim leader of the Liberals, said he is also taking action to recover all copies of the data.
"I have directed all members of our caucus, and our party office to return every single copy of recently distributed discs containing a list of electors to the chief electoral office," he said.
"I will also instruct those who have received the disc to erase any copies of these discs, if they have been made," he told the legislature.
"This will be done as soon as possible."
New Democratic Party Leader Dominic Cardy said this breach should be used to help improve the voters list and its privacy protections.