Minister's lips sealed on access-to-information website problem

The minister responsible for making it easy for Nova Scotians to get government information is being tight-lipped about why the province has pulled the plug on the portal launched 15 months ago to handle those access-to-information requests.

Patricia Arab will only say IT staff shut down portal after 'issue' last Thursday

Internal Services Minister Patricia Arab said there was an 'issue' with the access-to-information portal but she would not elaborate. (CBC)

Lauded as part of the McNeil government's commitment "to being open and transparent", the 15-month-old web portal set up to handle access-to-information requests has been offline since Thursday and the minister responsible won't say why.

"I really can only tell you that there was an issue with the site," Patricia Arab told reporters at Province House Tuesday. "It's been taken down. We're working to get it up and running as quickly as possible and when I have more information that I can bring back to you I will."

The problem occurred last Thursday.

The government offered a brief statement Monday, after CBC News reached out.

"We're experiencing an issue with the site and IT staff is looking into it. We're hoping to have it back up soon. Applications can still be processed by email or regular mail," said Brian Taylor, who speaks for Internal Services, the department responsible for the portal.

'We're working our quickest'

Asked if the problem was a security breach, Arab remained as vague as her spokesperson.

"We take privacy and security very seriously but all I can say today is that there was an issue. We've taken it down and we're working our quickest to get it back up again."

When Nova Scotians file freedom-of-information requests they must pay a $5 fee and can use a credit card to pay through the provincial government website. Asked if payment information had been compromised, Arab repeated what appeared to be her department's prepared response.

"What I know is that there was an issue with the site. We had to take it down and when there's more information that I can bring back to you, I will bring it back to you."

The minister says Nova Scotians won't have to file an access request to get to the bottom of what happened.

"No, as soon as I am able to bring back information to you, I will be bringing back information to you," she said.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill is unimpressed with the minister's response.

"I think the purpose of having a freedom-of-information program is so that we can ensure that governments are forthright — not part forthright, half forthright —100 per cent forthright," he said.

"These don't sound like to me 100 per cent forthright answers. We can do better than that."