Northern News Services received a mysterious postcard at its Yellowknife office yesterday morning.
The card was addressed to managing editor Mike Bryant, with the message “Information Breach at the GNWT: How (NOT) to respond to an information breach.”
The reverse side of the postcard has the word FAIL emblazoned across the top followed by the text “Case Study: Employee Offboarding and Privacy -How the Government of the Northwest Territories failed to respect and protect the personal information of employees and former employees.”
The postcard referred us to the website www.infobreach.ca.
But when you try to access the website it seems to be blocked, displaying an error message and what appears to be a screenshot of a cease and desist order from the Government of the Northwest Territories.
A department of justice spokesperson confirmed the validity of the notice on Wednesday evening.
“We are solicitors for the Government of the Northwest Territories,” the text states.
“Be advised the website infobreach.ca, is currently disseminating the personal information of several Government of the Northwest Territories (“GNWT”) employees without their consent. We have reason to believe that you are responsible for this dissemination and serious breach of those employees’ privacy.
“The GNWT demands that you cease and desist any further dissemination of the personal information and immediately shut down the Website. If you fail to shut down the Website by 5pm on December 21, 2018, the GNWT will pursue any and all legal remedies available to it. We look forward to your prompt compliance.”
This message is bordered by the words “HTTP 451:” and “THIS IS CENSORSHIP” in bright red text.
The error code HTTP 451 means the site requested is unavailable for legal reasons, such as being blocked by a government. The code takes its name from Ray Bradbury’s dystopic novel Fahrenheit 451, in which books are outlawed.
“As the GNWT became aware of the site disseminating unauthorized personal information about GNWT employees late in December 2018, GNWT legal counsel issued a demand to take the information down,” said Sue Glowach, a Department of Justice spokesperson, in an email. Glowach did not say specifically what kind of information was on the site, only that it was personal.
“The information contained on the site did not have permission to be released under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” she said.
“It involved personal information of employees. Consent has not been given to share this information.” A small number of GNWT employees were involved in the privacy breach, and steps have been taken to inform them, Glowach said.
It’s not clear what the purpose of the website is or even when it was created.
A capture of the website from the Internet Archive in August 2018 simply shows the words “Watch This Space. We make technology secure!”
The site was only crawled by the Internet Archive once, meaning this is the only existing snapshot of the site before it was blocked.
Glowach said the GNWT is aware who was behind the website, adding “there are also privacy considerations related to the operator of the website.”