How Simple Security Communication Blunders Can Negatively Impact Public Opinion

Apparently Toronto drew the short straw. It’s our turn to host the distinguished G8 and G20 summits this year and Canada is certainly stepping up to the plate. All our reluctant tax-paying citizens are financially responsible for ensuring the comfort and safety of a select few heads of state and their entourage on this august occasion in June.

Claudiu Popa

 

And a respectable event it is, with such noble and specific goals as the opportunity to discuss major international issues and develop personal relations between heads of state. Unfortunately, every year and despite their best intentions, the host countries have to endure any number of protests and criticism over the way things are handled and naturally the futility of the entire exercise in light of continued global misery. Past protests have been marred by injuries and even death, thus undermining the point of the exercise.

This year, Canada has decided to set the right example by applying an apparent overkill of prevention to the challenge of securing such a high profile event in a busy metropolis; to the tune of over $900 million in security spending. Naturally, the public’s confusion and criticism has been considerable, but unworthy of comment here until we see the actual cost breakdown. What is worth discussing here, using these very recycled electrons, is the disconnect between intent and resulting situation as they pertain to security.

Indeed, most people agree, security is a good thing. It’s intended to make us feel warm and fuzzy when we go about our business, and we expect there to be a reasonable layer of protection in place when we do things as mundane as walking the streets or shopping. Unfortunately, we see security blunders all the time. From the privacy abuses of airline passengers, to physical abuses in night clubs, to the disrespect with which people are sometimes treated when questioning activities carried out in the name of security.

The situation Toronto is in right now is a great example of biased media fueling the fire of public contempt for these arguably important international events. So by simply having a look at the current media situation, we can limit ourselves to a handful of specific, security-related matters that, if better handled, would have made for a lot less of a public relations challenge:

  1. Seek early public feedback. The $1.9-million Canadian Corridor, including the infamous ‘fake lake’ affectionately dubbed “Harper’s Folly”. Instead of defending the initiative as ‘Northern Ontario Oasis’ aimed at promoting the Muskoka region to the members of the not lucky enough to visit the site of the G8, why not encourage those people to actually visit the surrounding region, with its natural lakes and diverse backdrops?Instead, the ‘Folly’ is built in the busy Toronto media centre to be unveiled and used during a time of massive downtown congestion. This particular media disaster would likely have been defused by simply soliciting early, public opinion on the best ways to touristically promote Canada’s vast natural beauty. Had they done that, perhaps someone would have also pointed to the futility of building a replica of the Toronto Stock Exchange and other downtown landmarks. But at least the public would have had an opportunity to offer an opinion on the use of these taxpayer dollars.
  2. Try to come up with non-offensive names. Collaborative efforts across law enforcement to manage risk for the biggest security event in Canadian history have resulted in the creation of the Integrated Security Unit (ISU). A brief look at the ISU web site yields potentially irritating phrases such as
    1. passes for residents in the interdiction zone in Huntsville will be available beginning June 15”. Interdiction zone? Wow!
    2. “Members of a household may be allowed to pick up passes for family members at the discretion of the members of the Community Relations Group (CRG)”. One type of member has authority over another? Sounds like everyone should join the CRG!
    3. “The [ISU] has selected a location for the Designated Speech Area (DSA)… to support the peaceful exercise of freedom of speech and lawful assembly”.  Great! Let’s see how many protesters remain within the ‘designated’ confines of the DSA.
    4. The public should expect closures and restrictions on the highways in and around Toronto on Thursday June 24th to Sunday June 27th due to G20 security operations. These measures will have a significant impact on traffic flow on the Gardiner Expressway, QEW, Highway 427 and Highway 401, the DVP and connecting arterial roads. In addition, people living, working or traveling to and from Lester B. Pearson International Airport, should expect significant traffic delays. Every effort is being made to ensure these security measures have the least possible impact on the day-to-day lives of Torontonians while balancing the need to keep some of the world’s most powerful people safe and secure.
  3. To be fair however, and still within the realm of security effectiveness, the various Web sites seeking to mobilize protesters do use incendiary terminology to ostensibly incite the fires of passion in what would otherwise be regular people looking for an opportunity to voice their concerns. One of those sites is the Toronto Community Mobilization Network (TCMN), and before even having a chance to read entire sentences, our attention is drawn to such energetic and inspiring terms as: “militantly unapologetic”, “organizing in the face of police intimidation”, “folks can open their homes to comrades”, “challenge the G20 and demand trade, water and climate justice!”, “justice for our communities!”, “radical revolutionary change”. And with such contact information as mobilize[at]resist.ca” (not the real address, but very close to it), it almost sounds like a reincarnated Che Guevara is leading the charge for change, protest and justice, right here in our home town!

 

To conclude, security management and risk governance are not just bureaucratically crafted phrases to lend importance to some basic, technical activities. In fact, these terms are now the clear markers of an inflection point in the way organizations – and governments – handle the challenge of asset protection, whether those assets are objects, data or people. The process of doing things with secrecy, arrogance and insular authority must give way to a responsible – and entirely achievable – methodology that fundamentally embraces transparency, and communication and respect.

About the author:
Claudiu Popa, CISSP, PMP, CISA, CIPP is an information security/privacy consultant and CEO of Informatica Corporation (www.InformationSecurityCanada.com). A published author and media resource, Claudiu passionately discusses privacy issues, security breaches, governance and all matters of risk management. Write to him@ClaudiuPopa.com or simply contribute your comments to this blog. Follow him on http://Twitter.ClaudiuPopa.com or connect with him on http://LinkedIN.ClaudiuPopa.com.
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  • http://www.itbusiness.ca Nestor Arellano

    I agree Claudiu. I think the public was totally not consulted on this gigantic mess.