Mutiny on the desktop

Back in July 2007, two sailors in the Canadian Navy decided to teach some colleagues a lesson for what they perceived as lazy behaviour.

Petty Officer (Second Class) Janet Sinclair and Petty Officer (Second Class) Silvya Reid decided to hide the desktop icon that linked users to a classified database system on one of the computers at the National Defense Command Center (NDCC) where they work.

Little did they suspect that this simple act of inconvenience would lead to their home being raided by armed military policemen a month later, after they had been monitored from an unmarked surveillance van.

Nor did they imagine that it would land the pair of them in court on charges of “sabotage, conspiracy and mischief in relation to data”.

Happily, perspective was restored before sentencing in February 2009. The pair were cleared of the most serious charges, although they did both suffer a demotion and a fine.

Most shocking, though, is the fact that simply removing an icon from a desktop – a manoeuvre that had no material impact on the database system itself – caused what presiding judge Colonel Mario Dutil described as “an internal crisis” at the NDCC.

The act “brought into doubt the accuracy of the information” contained within the database, said Dutil. One officer went so far as to testify that national security had been threatened for a period of two weeks as a resul

“With all due respect, there’s a lot of puffing going around about national security,” said Sinclair’s lawyer, reasonably. “There was no risk to national security. The actual database was always safe.”

It is reassuring to know that the classified military data of one the world’s richest countries resides in such technologically savvy hands.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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