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Security breach 'illegal' and 'nefarious': BC official

The former British Columbia government worker accused of breaching the privacy of 1,400 income assistance recipients has not yet had his day in court, or even been charged, but at least one senior government official called the actions “illegal” and “nefarious”.

New Democratic Party MLA Doug Routley mentioned the Richard Wainwright case at a committee hearing last week reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The government is seeking more latitude to collect people's personal information without consent and share it both inside and outside the government.

“We've got the example of the Wainwright scandal in government where one person was able to intrude on the privacy of 1,400 income assistance recipients,” Routley said. “I think that human component is where their falling-down will be regardless of if we stay with what we have now or move on.”

The province's Chief Information Officer, Dave Nikolejsin responded, “People who choose to do illegal things for nefarious reasons will always be an issue.”

He said moving away from a paper-based system will make it easier to track who is accessing records than it was when Wainwright was taking sensitive records home. “Will it mean we'd never have another bad person doing bad things? That will always be an issue.”

The comments about Wainwright brought a warning from committee chair Ron Cantelon: “The Wainwright case has been mentioned a couple of times. If I could caution members and presenters that we don't want to imply or make any judgmental statements regarding that as being good or bad or otherwise. We want to be careful because that is in the court, so I'd like to give you that cautionary word.”

The Victoria Times Colonist newspaper reported that the RCMP found personal information from 1,400 income-assistance clients in Wainwright's Victoria apartment “as part of an investigation into fraud and false pretenses.”

According to a search of online court records, Wainwright has not been charged in relation to the breach.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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