A recent poll by the company Ipsos caught my eye. The poll noted that rapid technological advances infiltrating all aspects of our society had caused anxiety and fear in the Canadian population. Most specifically, those who responded to the poll feared for national security and the job market. Nearly one-third of those polled felt that technology had outpaced our ability to both understand and utilize it properly, and that jobs would therefore be at risk. As well, 60 percent identified that they felt the government and legal regulations had been outpaced by technology. This latter issue requires a few comments.
This poll, in my mind, brought to light several recent issues in the public safety community regarding cybersecurity, cyberterrorism, and finding ways for law enforcement (for example) to make the most of digital evidence, and to protect the resilience of Canada’s critical infrastructure. If, as the poll suggested, the public were genuinely afraid of the side effects of technology on the ability of our government to not only protect its citizens but also to develop and enforce legislation to do so, then public safety was perceived to be at risk. Further, it was one thing to fear that legislation will always be behind the pace of technology, but quite another to note that regulatory frameworks, for the most part designed to be enforced within national, physical boundaries, were no longer applicable in a digital (and virtual), borderless world.
Recent cases of data theft, identity theft, and the hacking of corporations, educational institutions, and even the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States are thus cause for concern. These incidents are disconcerting, as they support the general fears and anxieties of those polled. Similarly, recent allegations that cyberterrorism is on the rise, as well as affecting our democracies (note the ongoing Russia-hack-gate in the United States), placed tremendous strain on the notion that the government can (or will) protect its citizens. Canada has at its disposal, however, numerous national and international treaties and mandates that offer pathways to secure our critical infrastructure, and that offer tangible and actionable methods for cybersecurity. Canada also has proven guidelines for perimeter security and economic competitiveness that leverage technology.
The above are not separate but concurrent elements of our public safety. If the above-mentioned poll numbers are to be believed, then the government must act more quickly and in depth to avert future cyber crises that may negatively affect – both in real time and in the perceptions of Canadians – our public safety. Knowing what these elements are and how they are interconnected is vital, not just to a few Canadians, but to all Canadians. Further, it behooves public safety practitioners to make themselves aware of, and be active participants in, our digital revolution in order to more effectively and efficiently protect Canadians. All sectors of critical infrastructure, for example, are interconnected in Canada and most other countries around the world. These require active and continuous protection from those that wish us harm.
The poll, in my eyes, is a call to arms. Public safety in Canada is no longer just the domain of Public Safety Canada. Rather, it is the domain of all those who wish to be part of the fabric of a rich, knowledge-based society that is in an ongoing battle with itself and its technology. As with every revolution in humankind’s history, the digital revolution will impact everyone and everything. And this means our jobs, our economic prosperity, and our ability to broadly protect those interests that we hold dear. Technology should be a force multiplier for these things, not a barrier. And public safety policies and practices should also be part of the solution.
Preventing crimes, saving lives, and protecting our communities are now part of the digital domain. It is time we started immersing ourselves in these skills to prevent that which those polled most fear. Without the cyber protections required, our nation faces an uphill battle to compete economically, as well as to secure our borders and our infrastructure. And this means jobs will be lost.
And at the front line of this call to arms are our first responders and their leaders. I am hopeful that they have the education and training required to assist us all.
Dr. Oliver Stoetzer
Course Developer: SAFE600 Issues in Contemporary Public Safety; SAFE602 Public Safety Administration