Borders and Biometrics

Dec 15, 2006

The theme of this issue is very pertinent as it follows on the heels of recent ­pronouncements by Prime Minister Harper in Vancouver this summer and by U.S. President Bush in September. As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, there is need for a great and mutual effort on all sides to ensure the free and expeditious flow of legitimate persons and goods between our two countries. This implies a mutual trust in agreed identification systems for these persons and goods. Secondly, in this time of the “new security reality,” there is the duty of both countries to ensure that proper screening systems exist, to the mutual satisfaction of each, to thwart the passage of illegal persons and goods between our two countries.

What of this historic “longest undefended border in the world” that we both shared, idealistically, for so long? Well, as has been made clear by 9-11 on one side, and the serendipitous but very fortuitous capture of Canadian refugee-terrorist Ressam on the Washington State border six years ago… “the times they have-a-changed.”

Regrettable though this is to many, we are certainly not alone. On 10 November a declaration by usually silent Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director General of the Security Service, MI5, in the UK made us shockingly aware of this again. She admitted to “dozens of plots to kill people and damage the British economy, with 200 networks and over 1,600 individuals currently under investigation.” Most of these are “home-grown.” Indeed our own Director of CSIS, Mr. James Judd addressed a parallel security concern of organized crime in late October. He noted that “the editor of the publication Foreign Policy authored a book on contemporary international organized crime, noting that some estimated that this activity was now generating revenues equal to 10% of global GDP. In addition, he went on to highlight the corrosive effect that the corruption associated with this phenomenon was having on public institutions, to the point of criminalizing whole governments in some countries.” On the other hand, the Director also stated that: “National borders are only peripherally relevant to the vast majority of threats we deal with now, or to the risks to Canadians, at home or outside Canada.”

On reflection then, we are very much in this “new security reality,” where we must let neither the terrorist nor criminal jeopardize our security and prosperity, nor should they cause us to compromise our values. For a sovereign Canada, so reliant on exportation and immigration for its wealth, securing its border becomes an important security imperative – but how important, and to whom?

We lead off this issue with an excellent examination by Tanya Miller of the RCMP’s participation and collaboration with US and Canadian agencies particularly the operation of the revitalized Integrated Border Enforcement Teams. We follow this with a presentation by the Canadian Border Service Agency on where and how they see us adapting to this security challenge. We are also privileged to have a spokesman for the frontline agents of this agency, Mr. Ron Moran, who gives us the Customs and Excise Union (CEUDA) memberships’ perception of the way ahead. Both deal with the major change from a largely customs, revenue and immigration agency to a modern law enforcement agency along our borders, at our 1065 ports of entry and the many unguarded miles in between.

It is unrealistic to contemplate a solid continuous physical wall, hoping to deny the flow to unauthorized persons and goods. The expense for such an enterprise would indeed be foolhardy and crippling, let alone useless. It would also cause unnecessary delays and procedures for those people and goods that are legitimately entitled passage. Enter technology and its shiny new child: biometrics.

There are biometrics that will confirm the identity and bona fides of legitimate persons and goods, such as NEXUS and CANPASS. There are also biometrics that will “look-out” and identify known potential criminals and terrorists from biometric, data-based and real-time watch lists and photos, and other technical detection means for destructive and illegal materials. All will help to deny them both passage. Sounds simple… but is it? Sounds acceptable… but is it? Sounds necessary… but is it?

To do this the government must team with industry, particularly the technological and biometric industry in our view, and this attitude needs much more work. We are not alone to see the need for improved dialogue, as the comments by Harold Bottoms attest.

We will let you reflect on this and the technology that surrounds it. Technology scares some and we have articles by both Catherine Johnston and Jim Robbins on the Security/Privacy debate surrounding Information Technology that provide fresh optics on the reality and challenges of both.

Transport Canada has just announced additional anti-terrorist funding for major city transit systems as well as a biometric finger-print and iris scan identification system to allow authorized employee access to sensitive airport areas across Canada. Both of these are welcome and long overdue. Natural Resources Canada also deserves kudos for addressing the potential security threats posed by terrorist and others to offshore oil and gas platforms that were the subject of concern by Navy Captain Peter Avis in an earlier edition of FrontLine Security (issue 2/06).

There is much going on in industry to support these challenges. The RCMP’s NIII system allows disparate police information systems across the country to speak to one another; the work with CIC to conduct a six-month biometrics field trial of approximately 15,000 fingerprints and facial images from field trial participants around the world is indeed a precursor of things to come. Of greater importance will be efforts in Canada to coordinate with our U.S. neighbours as they implement the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) and the potential industrial and security benefits (to us) in the next several years.

The article by Jack Smith gives us an interesting glimpse into the security crystal ball to 2015 that our National Scientific Advisor has set up to ensure that an intelligent analysis process of evolving threats is performed.

We round off with a story of opportunities as Judy Bradt provides truly interesting guidance on U.S. contracting potential for Canadian Industry.

To conclude our first year, we have given the last word to Scott Newark. We hope that we served our purpose well and look forward to 2007.

We regret that we were unable to get the requested interview with Minister Peter McKay following our last issue on the War on Terror. Suffice it to say, that it drew a lot of comment. We hope to have an opportunity for our early edition next year, but suggest a continuing need for government’s clarity about Canada’s overall role… its role as a reliable middle power ally in the War on terror, particularly in Afghanistan. Have a good read and keep the letters coming.

Clive Addy, Executive Editor
© FrontLine Security 2006