Justice database has big security holes

More than one million police files that include deeply personal witness statements and some of British Columbia's most sensitive government information are stored in a shockingly accessible computer database that Auditor General John Doyle likened to a virtual public library.

Doyle released an audit Thursday of the provincial database known as JUSTIN, which is designed to support the administration of criminal justice cases from start to finish.

The audit, "Securing The JUSTIN System," concluded the system is not adequately protected from internal or external threats, and led Doyle to question the quality of the Justice Ministry's information technology leadership and governance.

"It's almost like a public library," said Doyle in an interview. "You can walk in and you can look at any book in the library and read it if you want to and walk out and you don't have to give your name and address."

"That's what people could do with this system," he said. "As long as they had a library card or even if they were a member of the public, they had a right to be there and they could walk in and have a look at anything."

The audit stated there are more than 3,300 JUSTIN users with access to reports to Crown counsel at all levels of government, provincial, federal and municipal, in a system spread over hundreds of locations across B.C., including more than 200 provincial and federal sites, 15 municipal police agencies, and over 150 RCMP detachments.

Included in the database, the audit stated, are sealed court files, details relating to youth cases and pardoned people. Also inside JUSTIN are reports to Crown counsel, details of police investigations, statements by witnesses, charge assessments and witness and victim contact information.

"Information in the JUSTIN system is not safe from individuals looking to gain access to it, and equally concerning, there is very little chance the ministry would ever know that unauthorized access had occurred," said the audit.

"While the availability of JUSTIN information is critical to the administration of justice in B.C., disclosure of this information to the wrong people could compromise personal safety and the integrity of the justice system."

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said the report is deeply concerning and she said the government moved quickly to ensure more security within the system.

Bond said her ministry has reduced by 800 the number of people who had access to the system.

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