Data, collaboration key to national and border security

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Monday, 06 August, 2018

Data, collaboration key to national and border security

Australia is encouraging global governments to embrace collaboration and analytics to tackle domestic and border security threats.

A globally networked world requires a globally networked, data-guided approach to maintaining national security and effective border protection, according to Department of Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo.

During a presentation at Public Sector Network’s 4th annual Australian Security Summit (AuSec 2018) in Canberra earlier in July, Pezzullo said that in the era of globalisation and unparalleled connectivity, traditional models of security risk are breaking down and must be completely rethought.

“The pervasiveness of networks, which is so intrinsic to globalisation, has transformed the very idea of vulnerabilities,” he said.

“Connectivity and the growth of networks are outpacing national laws, rules, regulations and policies — and indeed the technical comprehension of many regulators and administrators.”

Pezzullo said that cybersecurity considerations are now “infusing every consideration pertaining to critical infrastructure security, for instance, and the integrity of elections — to name but two areas”.

This is posing new challenges for authorities. For example, widespread adoption of encrypted communication is helping to aid terrorists, drug traffickers, money launderers, child exploitation syndicates, inside traders and others in hiding their illicit activities.

“Now, is that an argument not to have encrypted communications? No, it is not. But is it an argument to rethink how we access communications? Yes, it is.”

Meanwhile, governments must consider transforming their law enforcement and national security practices to encourage greater collaboration between nations to tackle serious threats such as organised crime.

“Our strategy for dealing with transnational, serious and organised crime, for instance, will need to increasingly look like the global counterterrorism campaign. Where intelligence-led disruption and control strategies ... all have to be in the lead,” Pezzullo said.

“We certainly need to rethink the paradigm that domestic security and law enforcement can be exclusively executed within national jurisdictions.”

But compared to defence and intelligence collaborations such as Australia’s involvement in the Five Eyes initiative, policymakers have not yet commenced the journey of closer collaboration in the domestic security space, with the notable exception of counterterrorism.

Pezzullo said the government plans to seek to rectify this when it hosts the Five Country Ministerial meeting of interior and homeland security ministers at the end of August.

Technological and process transformation also has a key role to play in improving national security and border protection, he added. Since the 2014–15 financial year, the Australian Government has granted an additional 1.3 million visas — representing an increase of 20% — despite the Department of Home Affairs having 200 fewer staff.

“We did this ... through smart management, new approaches and especially by bringing in new leaders and excellent people — with expertise in national security, case and volume management, analytics, the building of risk models and those who can develop and apply operationally deployable decision support systems,” Pezzullo said.

“Internally, we have engaged in significant business process re-engineering ... a significant increase of digital online visa lodgement processes; very significant business process automation; and self-initiated internal business improvement reviews designed to figure out where the work is best done, by whom and with which systems. We have also significantly expanded our biometrics program.”

Using data analytics, the Department of Home Affairs is also using data analytics and predictive modelling to develop improvements in areas including Australia’s visa risk assessment intelligence capability. The department estimates that this capability generated savings in the 2016–17 financial year of around $100 million.

“We are halfway through the rolling out of that program. It was based on extensive reviews and scoping work,” Pezzullo said.

“At the same time, we built a program of enhanced structured linkages to the Australian intelligence community. No longer were we reliant on transactions around watch lists. The predictive models actually generated leads — in many cases — in relation to prospective applicants who were on no-one’s watch lists.”

Ultimately, modernising the nation’s approach to domestic security while taking full advantage of a globally connected world will enable organisations such as the Department of Home Affairs to focus on their workforce as their best asset, Pezzullo concluded.

“Training them and exploiting their deep subject matter expertise and turning that to national advantage is key. Building systems and processes to support them to make good quality decisions is central,” he said.

“But above all, they need intelligence and data. And that ultimately means connecting your systems to the most sensitive datasets around, exploiting that data at an industrial scale and in a way that is increasingly reliant on automated analysis and assessment.”

Above all, departmental programs and activities should fit within “a coherent strategy which rethinks the networked world in which we live”, he said.

“A strategy which can reconcile that world with the reality of national systems of sovereignty, law and territorial integrity. Absent that reconciliation, all we will be doing is delivering our programs and undertaking our activities without a strategic conception of what we are doing.”

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