Summary of the Meeting of the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) - February 17, 2021
Held via Videoconference
- Michèle Audette
- William Baker
- Mary Francoli
- Harpreet Jhinjar
- Thomas Juneau (co-chair)
- Myles Kirvan
- Justin Mohammed
- Bessma Momani
- Dominic Rochon (co-chair)
- Jeffrey Roy
- Members Absent:
- Khadija Cajee
- “Transparency by Design”: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part Four
Invited Guests and Speakers:
- Yasmine Ahmed – UK Director at Human Rights Watch
- Victoria Walker – Assistant Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF), and Head of DCAF’s International Security Sector Advisory Team
National Security Community Members Present (as observers):
Canada Revenue Agency, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Communications Security Establishment, Global Affairs Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Public Safety Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
- Opening of the Meeting and Roll Call
- Discussion Session with Guests: “Transparency by Design”: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part IV
- Discussion on the Year Two First Report
- Information Updates and Closing Remarks
The eighth virtual NS-TAG meeting took place on February 17, 2021, on the theme, “Transparency by Design: Definition, Evaluation and Institutionalization of National Security Transparency – Part IV.” During the first session of the meeting, the two guest speakers discussed: access to information, the duty of candor, digital technologies and data, culture change and challenges related to measurement and key indicators, as well as some of the areas where transparency could be improved. During the second session, NS-TAG members briefly exchanged on the approach to their next report and its outline. For the last item of the meeting agenda, the Secretariat updated members on various organizational matters.
Key Takeaways of the Discussion with Guests:
- Trust in institutions and governments is needed for effective counter-terrorism and security policies in our democracies. This includes a public understanding of how governments make their decisions.
- To bring about a culture shift, change has to be invested in and promoted from the top. Members of security organizations need to be held accountable on key values. Active and thorough engagement with communities, proactive information sharing and the provision of effective redress processes are also crucial to promoting a cultural transformation on the issue of transparency. Processes have to be explained to the public in an intelligible way and funding has to be allocated to support partnerships and consultations. There has to be a feedback loop - when people and communities do not hear back after engaging with government officials, it decreases trust. Impediments and incentives to culture change should be mapped.
- Transparency is needed both in programs to prevent violent extremism and in counter-terrorism policing. This includes how data on people within particular communities is collected, shared and stored. It can also be about the opaque use of data and algorithms in predictive policing and policing resource allocation. Lack of clarity can undermine trust and hamper close collaboration with certain communities.
- Public information should be available on the integrity of storage and use of algorithms. Artificial intelligence should not be a means of hiding accountability. Ethical safeguards and traceability should always be identified. For the policing and justice services, issues of fairness and non-discrimination are critical in the development of AI systems. Hidden biases exist in algorithms and in system designs. Technologies can be a means of enhancing transparency. For example, AI can be used to film interactions with national security personnel.
- Loose definitions of information that can be redacted hampers transparency and access to information processes. Further, it is important to ensure that oversight bodies are given robust powers and abilities to see relevant evidence and challenge decisions regarding information that could be made public but is being redacted. The national security community should actively seek ways to release information and take a more proactive rather than a reactive and protective stance. Strategies to disaggregate information could lead to more information being released to the public.
- There are obstacles in improving transparency in the context of legal proceedings. To help improve the situation, record-keeping should be improved, especially to capture information as situations or events happen or evolve. Organizations also need to be sufficiently resourced to meet transparency and disclosure obligations.
- The establishment of measurement tools and key indicators is crucial to enhance transparency. The process of establishing these tools is in itself a form of oversight; it naturally expands access to information and provides an institutional memory of processes and decisions. Involving stakeholders in defining metrics helps scope possible areas of change.
- Indicators should be concrete and tailored to the desired outcome/change. Examples of indicators could include: the number of complaints resolved, number of code of conduct breeches and the percentage of policies developed with stakeholder input.
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