Human rights officials allegedly hijacked internet ID of Ottawa woman
A woman caught up in a mysterious internet hijacking scandal that has sparked a federal privacy investigation into the Canadian Human Rights Commission says she was shocked, angry and confused at suddenly finding herself publicly associated with white supremacists.
Speaking out for the first time, Nelly Hechme told the Canadian Press she was appalled to learn commission investigators might have hacked her internet connection to post messages on supremacist websites.
"It's horrible," Hechme said. "You never want something like that attached to your name."
Last month, an investigator with the Human Rights Commission told a hearing into a hate complaint that he made postings on websites under the password-protected pseudonym "Jadewarr."
In response to a subpoena, Bell Canada linked "Jadewarr" to Hechme's personal internet account, and provided her address and telephone number at the public hearing.
The revelation quickly found its way into the media and became the internet buzz among opponents of the rights commission.
Hechme, 26, who lives close to the commission's offices in Ottawa, said she was "completely shocked" when a reporter contacted her about the disclosure.
"It was like the Twilight Zone. I didn't know what the heck was going on," said Hechme, an administrative assistant with Bell Canada.
"I don't like the fact that my information was just put out all over, including my age, where I live, pictures of where I live. It's very disturbing."
Commission lawyer denies any wrongdoing
So far, the commission has not explained why or how its investigators might have commandeered Hechme's connection or offered any alternative explanation for how Hechme and "Jadewarr" became linked.
Ian Fine, senior general counsel with the rights commission, said he was unable to comment on the specifics of the case in light of investigations but denied any wrongdoing.
"We are quite confident that, at the end of the day, it will be established that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has done nothing untoward, nothing wrong, in this whole scenario," Fine said.
Hechme disputed an initial media report that her wireless internet access was unsecured and therefore easily hacked. In fact, she said, it required an encryption key that could not have been guessed or casually cracked.
When she forgot the key, even she couldn't access the connection, she said.
"It was so secure to the point I couldn't get into it [so] I'm not sure how they got into it. It's very bizarre."
Hechme said no one from the commission has contacted her. She has complained to the federal privacy office, which is formally investigating.
"To say that I was surprised and shocked … is of course a huge understatement," Hechme wrote to the privacy commissioner of Canada.
"To find out that it was an agency of the federal government that was responsible brings the level of concern to a whole different level."
Fine said the rights commission would speak in June about its "investigative techniques" during closing submissions in the hate case involving Toronto website operator Mark Lemire.
Lemire has filed a criminal complaint against the commission, alleging theft of telecommunications and unlawful computer interference.
Hechme, meanwhile, is pondering civil action, saying it's not fair she's been caught up in the murky web.
She's particularly distressed at finding her name associated with white supremacists and wonders whether that link — now firmly forged through the reach of the internet — might come back to haunt her.
"This is the part that bothers me the most. I don't know if my name is going to be flagged if I want to cross the border, if I apply for a job," she said.
"I don't even want anyone questioning my name. Ever."