NEWS

Navy personnel must now shed electronics before work

03/11/2013 06:49 EDT | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 EDT
Personnel at the Atlantic headquarters of the Royal Canadian Navy must now check all electronic devices before they go to work, in what one navy analyst calls a misguided response to the Jeffery Delisle spy scandal.

Delisle is a former navy officer in Halifax who pleaded guilty to selling secrets to Russia in October 2012.

Now when people like Master Warrant Officer Mike MacLean arrives at work, his Blackberry goes away.

He powers it down and stashes it in one of the hundreds of miniature lockers in the entrance to the headquarters of Maritime Forces Atlantic.

Cellphones, tablets and laptops are locked away, only to be retrieved at the end of the workday.

“You're kind of attached to it. It's like having your best friend, but it's not that bad once you get used to it, said MacLean.

“When you come into the building you just get used to doing it and away you go.”

Civilian employee Sady Toulany said she has gone cold turkey.

“I don't even bring my cellphone into work anymore, since this was implemented, just because I don't feel I need the temptation to come down during break,” she said.

'Knee-jerk' reaction

The strict policy has been in practice since January and Capt. Peter Ryan said the security changes are not related to the spy scandal involving Delisle.

The former sub-lieutenant was posted to the security unit HMCS Trinity, an intelligence facility at the naval dockyard in Halifax. It tracks vessels entering and exiting Canadian waters via satellites, drones and underwater devices.

The court heard how Delisle brought a thumb drive to work and downloaded reams of information to sell to Russia.

“Maritime Forces Atlantic is very proactive when it comes to identifying potential threats and all vulnerabilities,” said Ryan.

“So it's a total restriction in place, trying to be proactive, trying to stop any threat to stop information from being intercepted.”

Ryan maintains the policy was created in 2011, and only implemented this January.

Ken Hansen, navy affairs expert at Dalhousie University, said he doesn’t buy it.

“This is all designed as a knee-jerk reaction to the Delisle case, who was busy copying defence information and selling it at pennies per pound,” he said.

“They can hide information devices, I mean, are they really going to body cavity search people when they leave their workplaces to prevent this? I doubt it”

Hansen says the policy is unlikely to improve security, as illicit recording devices are easy to conceal.

He said a smarter way to improve security is by investing in people.

“This is exactly a human resource issue, talking about how you treat new people, how you induce loyalty, and how you get people committed to living to the ethos of the institution they're in,” he said.

“I have a lot of people I talk to on a daily basis, and the frustration level with being tarred by the same brush that's meant to prevent spies is causing immense frustration inside the organization.”

The navy says security around wireless devices in the Halifax building is likely to evolve as new technologies come into play, but the policy of cellphone lockdown is likely here to stay.

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