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Ottawa to set up secure communication system safe from hackers
at 16:58 on March 25, 2004, EST.

OTTAWA (CP) - A government-wide secret communication system is in the works to ensure federal officials can talk to each other without hackers or terrorists snooping on them.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said the project is part of a larger effort to help organizations with security responsibilities communicate more easily. "Communications are absolutely key. Intelligence gathering is key," McLellan said after a speech to security and police officials Thursday.

"If you're going to prevent various kinds of terrorist attacks, the better your intelligence, the better prepared you are. And you also need to be secure around making sure that those communications are shared."

McLellan suggested existing systems in government departments are quite secure, but form a piecemeal network of different technologies that sometimes make communication a challenge.

The emphasis on better flow of intelligence was likely a pre-emptive move as Auditor General Sheila Fraser prepares to release a report Tuesday scrutinizing the technical barriers that hamper the exchange of messages between Canada's security information systems.

Fraser's report will examine overall federal handling of the $7.7 billion allotted to security initiatives following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

She will zero in on the co-ordination of intelligence among departments and agencies, their ability to provide information to police, the state of fingerpring identification systems, and the assessment of airport workers who require clearances to restricted areas.

McLellan, while acknowledging some security gaps remain, denied the private conversations of Canadian officials are falling into the wrong hands.

"I'm not saying there are problems. This is about a continuous improvement, if you like," she told reporters. "We know since Sept. 11 we live in a very unpredictable world."

The government announced $605 million in new money for security over five years in its budget this week. It will go toward shoring up weaknesses at marine ports, better analysis of potential threats and investments in technology.

The government will consult Canadians as it drafts a national security policy in coming months, McLellan promised.

She also stressed ongoing co-operation with U.S. counterpart Tom Ridge on border security.

Canada must refuse to be a weak link or a haven from which terrorists can attack others, she said.

McLellan pointed to the terrorist bombs that ripped through commuter trains in Madrid two weeks ago, killing 190 people and injuring many others.

"There are no direct or specific threats against Canada. But I think what Madrid tells us is a heightened state of vigilance and surveillance is absolutely key.

"We cannot overreact, but we cannot be complacent."


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