In April of this year, the federal government issued its first comprehensive policy on national security. Securing An Open Society: Canada’s National Security Policy sets out an integrated strategy that focuses on addressing three core national security interests: the protection of Canada and Canadians at home and abroad; ensuring Canada is not a base for threats to our allies; and Canada’s contribution to international security.
Addressing the security issues identified in Canada’s National Security Policy is an urgent matter. However, as the measures outlined in the policy are implemented, it is important that we keep in mind several points. First, those responsible for implementing the policy should heed the lessons learned by those who have already undertaken similar initiatives. Canadians must apply global best practices by looking to the U.S. and elsewhere for successful implementations.
Second, Canadians must recognize that many of these policies will streamline information sharing and improve decision-making abilities among government departments, but also – contrary to what some believe – allow Canadians to more closely adhere to Canadian privacy laws.
Third, Canadians must acknowledge the role technology that can play in managing security efficiently and cost effectively, often in the absence of continuous human intervention.
Finally, Canadians must recognize that we will all benefit from these initiatives, both through better protection against security threats and through the economic- and health-related benefits the policy will engender.
Learning from and “keeping up with the Joneses”
The United States moved quickly post-Sept. 11 to establish its own security initiatives, spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security. Much of the work the U.S. is doing around security issues is becoming “best practice” for other nations to follow.
As the United States continues its Homeland Security initiatives, it is also scrutinizing its closest neighbours; it expects Canada and Mexico to set security standards comparable to its own. Indeed, Canada is paying close attention. For example, Canada is presently assessing a US-VISIT-style program for this country. The US-VISIT program screens visa-holding visitors to the United States, using biometric technology like fingerprint scans and digital photography, to help determine the admissibility of people who wish to enter the country.
As the United States implements the US-VISIT program, and as we embark on defining and implementing our own screening program, it is critical for us to both understand the U.S. model and the expectations our neighbour has of our program. Collaboration, idea sharing and the application of best practices across borders is absolutely vital.
The axis of information and intelligence is technology Several initiatives outlined in Canada’s National Security Policy will improve information sharing between Canadian federal agencies and with similarly mandated agencies in the United States and elsewhere. For instance, the RCMP, responsible for fingerprint identification and criminal record activities on behalf of Canada’s law enforcement, criminal justice and public safety communities, is implementing the Real Time Identification Project. A modernization of what was formerly a paper-based process, this new automated solution will electronically record, transmit and instantly verify fingerprints against broader databases.
The Real Time Identification Project is an example of how technology can play a significant role in improving cross-border and Canadian security. In addition to speeding the process of fingerprint identification, there is little doubt good data analysis leads to solid intelligence, which leads to improved decision making.
When it comes to security, it is not an issue of lack of information; rather the core challenge is how to share the information so that it is useful while adhering to Canadian privacy laws.
In an information sharing Utopia, at the federal level, information would flow freely between and among CSIS, the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP, local law enforcement, etc. Many would argue these agencies would be more effective at managing threats and apprehending people who pose a risk to security if they were able to share information freely. But at what cost to privacy?
What model do we apply so Canadian law enforcement and protection agencies adhere to privacy laws when they share information, while that data also becomes intelligence that allows decision makers to act on potential threats?
Again, we can look to our U.S. neighbours for guidance as to a possible solution to this challenge with a program the Pentagon is examining. The U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) is implementing the Joint Protection Enterprise Network (JPEN), a secure, Web-based, shared situational awareness, antiterrorism and force protection tool for its organizations. It will transform military bases, currently reporting through “stove piped” chains of command, into bases that will horizontally share sensitive but unclassified information via the Web.
JPEN tracks suspicious activity that may be related to terrorist activities directed against DoD facilities. It allows commanders of those facilities to share appropriate force protection related information without relinquishing control of all the information in their individual systems, while at the same time protecting individual privacy. JPEN is an example of how technology can become a decision-support tool. Hypothetically speaking, a Canadian model could be developed that relies on technology to analyze and share a specific number and agreed set of data elements. Certain analysis outcomes could then trigger appropriate actions or escalations, such as one agency notifying another of an interest in a target. In this example, because agreed criteria must be met at every step of the decision-making and escalation process, and because the decision support system is technology-based rather than subject to human judgment (and hence exposed to error), these agencies could operate more efficiently and within the bounds of privacy laws.
Arguably, when it comes to information sharing on matters relating to national security, less is more. We do not want intelligence falling into the wrong hands and we want to ensure the protection of privacy while at the same time having the right information that allows authorities to act decisively, quickly and appropriately.
Technology- versus human-driven solutions Two of the key measures outlined in Canada’s National Security Policy are Border Security and Transportation Security. Canada is surrounded on three sides by water. According to Transport Canada, Canada-U.S. maritime trade averages roughly 110 million tonnes a year. An additional 7 million tonnes of containerized cargo travels through Canadian ports to or from the United States.
Over all, Canada-U.S. trade is worth more than $1.5 billion a day, including maritime commerce. If our border shut down for a single day due to a security threat, it would cause tremendous damage to U.S. and Canadian economies. So a fine balance is required between maintaining border security and allowing the efficient flow of goods.
As part of its improvements to border and transportation security, the federal government recently introduced the Marine Facility Contribution Program. This five-year program provides $115 million to ports and marine facilities to strengthen port security.
In the case of marine applications, we are seeing clear examples where technology is trumping a human’s ability to provide fail-safe, always-on security. This is expanding as the cost of technology continues to drop while its capabilities increase.
Last year, Oracle Corp. teamed with RFID solution provider Savi Technology to develop a pilot program for electronic tracking and cargo management that enables the safe passage of goods from factories to destinations across international borders. The initiative was designed to ensure efficient and reliable shipment of cargo, while ensuring that cargo containers do not become tools for terrorism.
Better national security equals better lives. There is little doubt Canada’s National Security Policy will help to protect us from threats within and outside our country. The other benefits may be less obvious, but just as important. SARS, BSE, avian flu and other public health issues remain a concern to all Canadians, and have had a tremendous economic impact on our travel & tourism and food & agriculture industries. It is clear that on issues of human and animal health care, better information sharing relating to disease control will benefit Canadians personally and economically.
With an eye on privacy protection, we must move toward a model of centralizing disease tracking and research findings, and make breakthrough health information available faster to parties with similar mandates and goals. Technology, and its inherent layers of security, will be the key enabler.
The government’s pursuit of a National Security Policy is of critical importance to Canadians, and clearly we are on the cusp of many exciting new technologies that will play critical roles in securing our lives and livelihood. All will be under the guise of national security, but in the end, the benefits to Canadians will go far beyond security.