Province emailed woman’s sex-assault complaint to stranger
Department of Justice apologizes for privacy breach
A woman is upset after discovering that the Department of Justice breached her privacy by accidentally sending her sexual assault complaint via email to a complete stranger.
The woman from Newfoundland and Labrador, who's now living in another province, said she was dismayed by the news.
"This communication was distributed to [someone] externally and apparently in error, and indicates a complete breach of security, of my privacy and information."
Justice Minister Darin King is now offering his sincere apologies to the woman who was involved in the breach.
"I think she has a right to be upset, and to expect more from our staff," he said.
But the woman called that apology "cold comfort," and said she won't be satisfied until she speaks with the minister.
Email sent to third party
Last week, the woman was sitting at her desk during a regular workday, when she received an email from a stranger.
The email contained a long, detailed letter that she'd written to the justice minister last April, asking him to investigate how the justice system had dealt with her sexual assault complaint.
"That person did not understand why they had received it, nor did I understand at that point in time why it had been distributed to them," she said.
"They were just as confused and concerned about why they had received this information."
The woman said she then emailed the justice department for an explanation.
"I requested someone to contact me directly. I indicated that it was an outrageous breach of security and privacy, and that I needed immediate and urgent follow-up — and that actually did not occur," she said.
The woman then phoned the minister's office. She got a call later that day from the department's assistant deputy minister, who explained what had happened.
Safety is a critical issue for survivors of sexual assault, and this is just an additional level of safety that has been violated.- Woman whose privacy was breached
"The conversation that we had was that it would have been some sort of mistake when the person was trying to enter an [email] address to whoever it was that they were forwarding my correspondence to internally, and that somehow, in the action of doing so, someone else's name is now in that 'to' field, and they clicked 'send,'" she said.
The woman said she considers herself lucky that the person who wrongfully received the email had contacted her.
In this digital age, the complainant is concerned about where her personal and private information could end up.
"Safety is a critical issue for survivors of sexual assault, and this is just an additional level of safety that has been violated," she said.
The complainant called the breach a "very serious" one.
"At this point in time, my largest concern is that the department ensures that this doesn't happen to anyone else," she said.
A simple but serious mistake, King says
Justice Minister Darin King has now apologized to the woman for the mistake.
"A security breach of that nature is very serious," he said.
"Anytime you're dealing with an agency like government, you would expect that your information is kept private and confidential. So I want to offer a sincere apology to that individual."
King said the woman had written an email and sent it to "general inquiries" at the Department of Justice.
"Once we discovered there was an error, immediately both people were contacted — the person who sent the initial email, and the person who received it in error — and advised of what had happened," King said.
He said the person who wrongly received the email was asked to delete the communication immediately.
"It was a simple mistake, but a serious mistake, because we take privacy very seriously," he said.
King said his department will now undergo a thorough review of how it handles information.
"We're reviewing the entire situation and I've asked staff to look at whether there's different protocols that we can put in place or different ways that we can receive this information and process it before we forward it along," he said.
"We'll certainly do whatever it takes to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again."