Canadian government approach to private messages based on honour system

The Canadian government is basing its approach to officials’ private text messages on the honour system.

A newly released document shows the department grappled with an unforeseen technological hurdle that could have scuttled the whole plan.

A note attached to a December 2014 memo for Treasury Board Secretary Yaprak Baltacioglu states:

“Some models of the new generation BlackBerry 10 devices  do not permit a user to forward PIN-to-PIN messages to email accounts, this making it difficult to retain such messages, or to capture them for response to an (access-to-information) request,”

PINs, or personal identification numbers, are unique IDs that can be used to send secure messages to other BlackBerry users.

That limitation put Treasury Board — which is responsible for coming up with information technology and access-to-information rules for all government departments — in a bit of a bind.

BlackBerry came up with a few work-arounds. Bureaucrats could cut and paste their PIN messages — including the “to,” “from,” “date,” “time” and “subject” fields — into an email, which they would then send to themselves.

They also had the option of taking screen shots of their PINs, or they could simply write out a copy of their message and store it away in an email message or a Word document.

Treasury Board suggested ditching PINs altogether.

“Please note that it is a recommended best practice to discontinue the use of PIN-to-PIN messaging and use BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) capability instead, as BBM messages can be easily forwarded to a government of Canada email address,”

The Canadian Press obtained the document under the Access to Information Act.