Alleged hacking of woman’s Internet by federal officials subject of privacy probe
By Colin Perkel, The Canadian PressTORONTO – Canada’s privacy office is looking into allegations that federal human-rights investigators tapped into an unwitting woman’s Internet connection to post messages on white supremacist websites, a spokesman said Friday.
The unauthorized use of someone’s computer or network could constitute a serious breach of privacy, the office of Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said.
“The possibility that the (Canadian Human Rights Commission) was accessing someone else’s computer without their permission, and in effect using their network to communicate, is something we’re certainly going to look into,” Colin McKay, who is Stoddart’s communications director, said from Ottawa.
“Hacking into anyone else’s network for your own purposes certainly seems like a breach of judgment at the very least.”
The allegations arise out of long-running hate hearings before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal involving Toronto resident Mark Lemire.
During the hearings, Dean Steacy, an investigator for the human rights commission, admitted using the pseudonym “Jadewarr” to post messages on white supremacist websites.
Following a subpoena, Bell Canada revealed that one “Jadewarr” post in a chat room had originated from an Internet address belonging to Nelly Hechme, a woman who lives in an Ottawa high-rise close to the commission’s office.
Hechme, 26, who apparently had an unsecured wireless Internet link, was reportedly dumbfounded by the use of her account and denied any connection to Steacy or the rights agency.
The human rights commission has not been informed of any complaint, denies the allegations and is prepared to defend itself “vigorously,” spokesman Mark Van Dusen said Friday.
The privacy commission will “have to determine exactly what happened,” McKay said.
“If your neighbour did it to you, you’d be justifiably upset, so to have a government institution undertake that sort of activity would seem poorly considered.”
Lemire has launched a criminal complaint, arguing rights investigators breached four sections of the Criminal Code that bar unauthorized use of telecommunications devices and computers.
Computer connections to the Internet can be made through a wireless access point, which allows users to move around freely.
However, a wireless network without a password is also readily accessible to anyone close enough to the access point. A hacker could retrieve confidential data from a personal computer or use the Internet connection to commit crimes traceable only to the unwitting victim.
Just this week, Alberta’s privacy commissioner ordered an unprecedented investigation after a man in need of a wireless Internet link was able to easily access an unprotected law office computer in downtown Edmonton containing hundreds of client files.
The cases highlight the need for Canadians to protect themselves from hackers looking to defraud a victim or from improper access by government agencies, McKay said.
While the federal privacy commissioner has not previously dealt with the hacking of a wireless connection, it has ruled that unauthorized access of a computer could be a violation of personal information.
The current case might also point to a need for stronger legislation, McKay said.
It’s the proverbial snowball now.
Everything is going to be exposed. Everything.
Everybody is going to be subpoened and everything is gonna come out.
This might be the beginning of the end for the CHRC because at the end of the day, it’s not so much the people involved, it’s the system that attracts these people.