Nova Scotia abandons its attempt to destroy a teenager who stumbled on a wide-open directory of sensitive information

Last month, an unnamed 19-year-old Nova Scotian grew frustrated with the lack of a search interface for the province's public repository of responses to public records requests; he wanted to research the province's dispute with its public school teachers and didn't fancy manually clicking on thousands of links to documents to find the relevant ones, so he wrote a single line of code that downloaded all the public documents to his computer, from which he could search them with ease.

Then the Nova Scotia police raided his house, separated his young siblings from his parents (scooping one off the street as he was walking home from school), and seized all the computers and electronics, including the laptop his father used to earn his living.

It seems that the Nova Scotia government had mixed in at least 700 sensitive, confidential documents in the same open directory where they kept their public documents, and in downloading what seemed liked a collection of public records, the teenager had also grabbed these sensitive documents.

This was, obviously, not his fault — instead, it was an act of gross negligence on the part of the province.

The teenager was facing 10 years in prison, but the Halifax Regional Police have now backed down, issuing an official statement that "there were no grounds to lay a charge of unauthorized use of a computer."

The police have not returned the family's electronics yet.

The police say that if they had it to do over again, the wouldn't change a thing.

Since the raid, Nova Scotia has admitted that at least 11 other computers accessed the sensitive documents. No one knows who those computers belong to.

Halifax police Supt. Jim Perrin told CBC News he doesn't think police would have proceeded differently if it had known all the facts of the situation.

"When the incident was reported to the police, it was certainly believed that a criminal act had taken place," he said.

Perrin said the complaint came from someone at the security level of the provincial government. He said it was reported that a website was compromised and personal information was taken.

"Every case comes at us different. There's no perfect way that a case evolves. This case obviously had some significant interest because of the significant amount of personal information that was alleged to have been taken," Perrin said.

Halifax police won't charge teen arrested in Nova Scotia privacy breach [CBC]