In The Media

Parliament begins review of new national security legislation

by Neil Desai

The Hill Times
February 2, 2015

As we enter another period of global instability, Western, liberal-democracies, must strive to reshape the security-civil liberties dichotomy

There is often willingness from the general public to cede some civil liberties, including privacy, in periods of heightened security. Here in Canada, public safety and national security are again, top of mind. A recent poll by Abacus Data shows that 18 per cent of Canadians list public safety and terrorism as one of their top three issues. In March 2014, the poll showed only four per cent responding this way. 

As we enter another period of global instability, Western, liberal-democracies, must strive to reshape the security-civil liberties dichotomy. This is ever so relevant here in Canada as the memory of our Parliament and Canadian Forces members being attacked by assailants, motivated by the hateful propaganda produced by ISIS, is fresh. This is exacerbated by the recent attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in France.

At the heart of solving the security-civil liberties dichotomy is technology. Unfortunately, much of the global skepticism in government and law enforcements’ respect for civil liberties is perceived to be technologically-driven. However, the data unveiled by Snowden and Wikileaks is not an indictment of technology or technological capability.   

The nature of national security and public safety threats continues to evolve quickly. Just as technology has enabled global commerce at rapid rates, crime has globalized and reached velocities never seen in history. The internet has become a tool for terrorist recruiting and training, human trafficking and child exploitation among other crimes. A whole new category of crime, cybercrimes, has proliferated. According to a study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the annual cost of cybercrime to the global economy is estimated at $445-billion. Law enforcement officers are saddled with the burden of dealing with these new types of crime and digital evidence while under resource constraints.

Beyond cybercrime, law enforcement is also faced with unprecedented jurisdictional challenges as it tries to protect citizens from the unscrupulous. A Council of Canadian Academies report, titled “Policing Canada in the 21st Century,” suggests that “the lack of coordination has the potential to become a much greater concern in the future given the growing cross-jurisdictional nature of crime.”

Law enforcement and national security agencies in Canada and around the world have the arduous task of understanding new technologies while balancing jurisdictional and civil liberties challenges. The technology industry has an important role in addressing these challenges.

First, the industry must be a partner of police and security agencies in managing technology and technological challenges. Governments, under the best of fiscal circumstances, cannot be expected to continually evolve to match the constant innovation of the technology sector. Details of these partnerships must be transparent to build trust with each other and the general public. 

Second, the technology sector, police, and national security organizations need to partner to develop new tools to not only address today’s threats, but to also anticipate future threats. Such a partnership should put respect for civil liberties and managing jurisdictional challenges at the heart of its dialogue. It is only through the purposeful co-development of such tools that will we see the technological lag between crime and law enforcement closed as well as the tension between security and civil liberties turned in to a false-dichotomy.

Neil Desai is an executive with Magnet Forensics, a digital forensic software company in Waterloo, Ont. He also serves as a fellow with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and is a former chief of staff to the CIDA minister.

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