Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia government apologizes for 'poor email etiquette'

A provincial employee is upset the Nova Scotia government advised her and more than 1,000 of her colleagues in a mass email to expect a larger than usual pay this week.

Employee considers mass email a breach of her privacy

Nearly 1,500 provincial government employees were notified in a mass email that didn't redact each other's addresses that they would receive their long-service award payouts Thursday. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

More than 1,000 Nova Scotia government employees who opted for a long-service award payout have been advised their money is coming Thursday. But because of an error sending the email, hundreds of their colleagues also know they may be flush with cash this coming payday.

That did not sit well with one government employee who contacted CBC News about the email.

"While this privacy breach is not as serious as what has recently been reported, I find the trend and what appears to be either a lack of good policy and procedure, or perhaps laziness, concerning," wrote the employee, who asked that her name not be used because she was concerned about possible reprisals.

The Nova Scotia government has been dealing with two embarrassing privacy breaches in recent weeks. On Monday, parents who were trying to register their children for a popular school program were able to see private information about other families. And earlier this month, the province discovered that private documents on its freedom-of-information portal were accessible to the public simply by altering a URL.

Better controls needed, says worker 

The government worker was not keen to have hundreds of other employees know she is among those getting the payout. Frustrated no one had replied to her phone messages to find out what happened, she contacted CBC News.

"I didn't want others to know my personal business and that I opted to take this payout now," she wrote in an email. "I feel like better controls need to be put in place to protect people's privacy. I realize I'm a public servant, but I still have the right to discretion by my employer."

The Nova Scotia government has emailed the 1,444 employees who were contacted without their addresses being redacted to explain the error.

"Our apologies to those of you who may have received this email twice. The previous email was incorrectly formatted and needed to be recalled," said an email sent Tuesday morning.

'A regrettable mistake'

Another email later in the day offered more information: "This morning you received an email relating to the upcoming service payout, explaining that the original email was incorrectly formatted and needed to be recalled," it said.

"Typically, recipients would be blind-copied to mask the other recipients of the email, which did not happen in this case. We understand that this issue has caused a number of you frustration, and wanted to clarify that this was a regrettable mistake for which we apologize."

Although some saw it as a violation of their personal information, the Nova Scotia government did not.

Brian Taylor, spokesperson for the Internal Services Department, offered this explanation to CBC News: "Civil servant compensation over $25,000 is reported publicly through Public Accounts and is considered public information. So, while it was poor email etiquette and should not have happened, it is not considered a privacy breach."