Protecting our borders: IT stands guard

Summary:We look at the hardware and software employed to combat terrorism, and how ports and other critical infrastructure are protected.

When we think of homeland security, our mind often turns to those annoying characters at the airport whose job it is to rifle through our hand luggage. But behind the scenes, a wide array of technology is being deployed in an attempt to keep us safe.

That's not always a good thing.

While some of the frankly impressive technology being used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies may indeed contribute to our security, they also have potential for misuse.

As you'll read in Follow that face, the Australian Federal Police has enjoyed considerable success by using facial recognition to recognise offenders with forged identity credentials. But experts say it's conceivable that facial recognition technology may one day evolve to the point that government agents could identify any citizen through a photograph. That could include citizens protesting controversial wars, or perhaps citizens guilty of Australia's newest crime: sedition.

At Customs, Jill Savage, national manager for Border Intelligence and Passengers Development Branch, says the SmartGate project will enhance border security, but is geared more towards efficiency goals. "The primary driver is we've got increasing traveller numbers and infrastructure limits at airports," she told ZDNet Australia. "Normally our response would be to increase staff ... but we don't have extra space so that normal manual process isn't an option for us [anymore]."

This report also looked at how law enforcement bodies intercept voice and data communications, thankfully subject to rigorous due process, and how sub-atomic particles neutrons, may one day help Customs officials peek inside all manner of cargo.

You'll also read about the Howard Government's proposed national identity card -- to be issued to the vast majority of Australians -- which it argues is anything but.

Howard himself passionately opposed Prime Minister Bob Hawke's proposed Australia Card in the 1980s, before back-flipping this year -- security concerns make it reasonable, he says. Despite that statement, the federal government now insists the card is not being introduced as a security measure, but as a way of cracking down on fraud.

Despite the cool-factor of security technologies, it's important that we remain level headed; it's important that we don't embrace technology for technology's sake. It can be used to protect or oppress, to safeguard against attack or to stifle dissent. It is our duty to make sure the compromise between individuals' fundamental, if not legal, rights to privacy and freedom of expression aren't skewed too far in either direction through bad policy.


Topics: Security, Government : AU


Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company, and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Patrick has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1,000 compan... Full Bio

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.