Five Eyes alliance meets in Ottawa, stresses sharing intelligence to detect terrorists

A sign for the Government of Canada's Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is seen outside their headquarters in the east end of Ottawa on July 23, 2015.
A sign for the Government of Canada's Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is seen outside their headquarters in the east end of Ottawa on July 23, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Security and justice officials from the Five Eyes countries plan to explore “more timely and detailed” information sharing to detect terrorists and extremist fighters.

The Islamic State and its affiliates will continue to attack soft targets in public spaces – underscoring a need for better data exchanges to address the threat, the partners said in a joint communique issued Wednesday.

Attorneys general and ministers for public security and immigration from Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand gathered in Ottawa this week for two days of closed-door talks.

“Throughout these discussions, we affirmed that building public trust within our countries is required to move forward on national security issues,” the communique said. “Enhanced safeguards and greater efforts to promote transparency are critical in this respect.”

READ MORE: Five Eyes intelligence alliance meeting in Ottawa to tackle digital terror tactics

The sessions followed a rash of deadly attacks in Britain that highlighted the international alliance’s concerns about the threat of homegrown extremism and the backlash it can provoke.

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The meetings also came as police in Ottawa busily stepped up security measures in anticipation of tens of thousands of people gathering Saturday on Parliament Hill to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.

Although there’s a need to be attentive and vigilant, Canadians can have confidence in their government, police and security agencies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

“Every year, we step up around Canada Day to ensure that everything is done to keep Canadians safe.”

In order to help prevent “sophisticated and relentless plots,” the five countries affirmed the importance of sharing information among partners on known criminal and terrorist actors, the alliance communique said.

Security officials are worried about the widespread availability of encryption tools and applications that can allow extremists to more easily communicate without their phone calls and texts being intercepted.

Civil libertarians argue the right of law-abiding people to converse in private should not be compromised in the name of fighting terrorism by giving authorities the means to crack encryption or build back doors into security programs.

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In a statement Sunday, Australian Attorney General George Brandis said his country planned to lead a discussion at the meetings on the terrorist use of cyberspace.

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In its Wednesday communique, the alliance said the ability of terrorists and other criminals to shield their electronic activities through encryption can “severely undermine public safety efforts by impeding lawful access to the content of communications.”

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They agreed to a common approach to engaging with communication service providers to deal with online terrorist activities and propaganda, while “upholding cybersecurity and individual rights and freedoms.”

The countries also committed to support a new industry forum led by Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter.

In addition, they plan to:

– Look at the role of traditional and social media and community voices in fostering – or discouraging – the radicalization of young people;

– Share ideas on handling the threat posed by terrorist fighters who return from conflicts abroad;

– Explore the possibility of joint operations to better tackle human trafficking and modern slavery.

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