Justice system seeks integrated data to combat terrorism

The shadow of Sept. 11, 2001 hung heavy over the mountains of Whistler, B.C. this week as delegates at a conference focusing on technology and terrorism discussed ways to improve public safety by sharing information across governments and agencies.

The centrepiece of the federal government’s

strategy to overcome this information gap and help detect suspicious individuals is the Canadian Public Safety Information Network, or CPSIN, spearheaded by federal Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay. Greg Wright, the executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Secretariat, said CPSIN will provide law enforcement and front line workers with an important tool.

“”Knowledge, and the sharing of it, is the critical plank in mounting a credible fence against terrorism, and indeed any crime,”” said Wright, speaking at “”Terrorism and Technology: Prevention, Protection and Pursuit,”” which wrapped up Tuesday. “”A police officer’s look at you, a custom officer’s gut feel — we’re not saying throw that out. We’re trying to give those people additional tools to work with.””

With a customs inspector only having 30 seconds to make the critical decision of whether or not to allow a person to enter the country, Wright said getting all the available information to that inspector quickly and seamlessly is vital. The information is there, but the value of it isn’t being realized.

There are a number of obstacles to putting CPSIN in place. Most of the existing standalone legacy systems at the various agencies aren’t interoperable. CPSIN will have to be the bridge, Wright said. There is an ingrained reluctance to share information outside each agency, he added, not to mention a host of privacy concerns.

“”This is a linking of networks; it’s not a Big Brother database,”” said Wright.

CPSIN’s front door, the National Criminal Justice Index, will make sure each user gets only the appropriate level of access, and common standards for data sharing will facilitate searches.

A similar model, called Justin (combined from the words “”integrated justice system””), has already been implemented in B.C., linking various stakeholders in the criminal justice system including law enforcement, crown attorneys, court houses and victims’ workers.

Scott Andison, a former executive director in the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General, said with more than 8000 users at more than 200 locations, Justin proves that an integrated justice system sharing information can actually work.

“”We have to stop thinking about where we can go, talking about platitudes, and actually get there,”” said Andison.

He added that while such systems can help in the fight against terrorism, that’s not where the focus should be.

“”The focus on integrated justice has to be on the things we deal with every day,”” said Andison, pointing out that Justin has helped the system separate the dangerous offenders from those requiring less attention.

The nation’s security focus remains on terrorism, however. As part of a recent agreement on border security with the United States, the federal government is working to use technology as a tool to increase security on our borders while still facilitating the swift flow of goods and people with our neighbors to the south.

Blake Delgaty, a regional manager with CCRA, said the agency is investing heavily in technology, such as X-ray and gamma ray equipment at sea ports and a trial of iris-scanning biometric technology products at airports. In conjunction with greater information sharing, including across national borders, Delgaty said the aim is to identify suspicious passengers warranting closer inspection before they board a plane for Canada.

“”The events of Sept. 11 clearly showed the ways we were sharing information weren’t working,”” said Delgaty. “”The challenge now is to balance the need for privacy and transparency with the need for security.””

Organized by Reboot North America Ltd., the Terrorism and Technology conference gathered approximately 500 law enforcement senior executives and practitioners, senior policymakers, lawmakers and funding providers.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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