Nova Scotia

McNeil won't apologize for comments about teen at centre of privacy breach

Nova Scotia's premier is refusing to apologize for comments he made about the 19-year-old at the centre of the government's privacy breach, even though police now say they won't charge the teen.

Police say there was no criminal intent, the teen has said he was looking for information about teachers

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil repeated Tuesday that information was 'taken' from the government. (Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's premier is refusing to apologize for comments he made about the 19-year-old at the centre of the government's privacy breach, even though police now say they won't charge the teen.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders are calling on Stephen McNeil to say sorry for referring to the data breach as "stealing."

His comments were made last month after the province disclosed that 7,000 files had been downloaded from its freedom-of-information portal, including some with personal information.

"What I said was the information that was taken outside of government, it was taken outside of our government," McNeil said Tuesday.

"[It was ] downloaded off a site, information that was private information of individuals, onto a device."

On April 11, the 19-year-old was arrested at his Halifax home where he lives with his parents. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

On Monday, nearly a month after the teen was arrested at his Halifax home, Halifax Regional Police said they had determined there were no grounds to lay a charge of unauthorized use of a computer.

Software and privacy experts have said the province was at fault for not protecting the data, and some have suggested the government sought a scapegoat in the teen to cover its own security failings.

The teen previously told CBC News he was simply searching for information on the teacher's contract dispute and wrote a script to download documents en masse.

Many of the records were intended to be public. But some with personal information were also visible on the public portal.

Letters from the Department of Internal Services sent to people whose information was accessed highlighted someone had been arrested and charged after "inappropriately accessing it."

The province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy website has been unavailable for a month. (CBC)

On Tuesday, both NDP Leader Gary Burrill and interim PC Leader Karla MacFarlane said McNeil should admit he was at fault and apologize — both to the public and the teenager and his family. 

"I believe he should just pick up the phone and say, 'look, we're sorry for all this confusion and I'm happy you co-operated with police,'" said MacFarlane. 

"He needs to let Nova Scotians know that this issue happened because they were incompetent in ensuring there was security on people's information," she said. MacFarlane also said Internal Services Minister Patricia Arab should "step away" from the department. 

Burrill said the government should acknowledge it failed to act on warnings about digital security gaps flagged by the auditor general in 2016 "instead of this misrepresentation of the facts and the continued villainizing of the young person."

"It was utterly a preventable issue," he said.

With files from Jean Laroche