Canadian government bans WeChat and Kaspersky on officials’ devices; US agencies shown paths to resilience in cross-sector report: news in brief

By on 09/11/2023 | Updated on 09/11/2023
A smartphone in a pocket showing the WeChat app.
Photo: Focal Foto

Global Government Forum’s digest of the news you need to know but might have missed.

Canadian government bans WeChat and Kaspersky on officials’ devices

The federal government of Canada has banned the use of Chinese messaging app WeChat and the Russian platform Kaspersky on government devices due to what it deems privacy and security risks.

Government-issued devices are expected to have these applications removed and users blocked from downloading them in future. While no breaches have been recorded so far, the decision was made to mitigate risks associated with both platforms’ data collection methods.

Anita Anand, the president of the Canadian treasury board who is tasked with overseeing Canada’s federal public service, said the methods “provide considerable access to the device’s contents”. She conveyed a message from Canada’s chief information officer Catherine Luelo that WeChat and Kaspersky posed “an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security”.

Anand said the decision to ban WeChat and Kaspersky from state-owned devices “was made to ensure that government of Canada networks and data remain secure and protected and are in line with the approach of our international partners”.

In February this year, the government took a similar decision to ban TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance in China.

The ban reflects the status of relations between Ottawa and Beijing. Ottawa has previously taken the Chinese government to task for allegedly interfering in Canadian elections, as well as attempts to intimidate MPs, leading to the expulsion of a Chinese diplomat in May 2023.

In October this year, the Canadian government sounded the alarm again, this time over a disinformation campaign linked to China consisting of prolific online posts and deepfake videos aimed at discrediting Canadian lawmakers and the country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Read more: India and USA clamp down on China’s TikTok app

US agencies offered routes to crisis resilience in new report

A report co-written by Washington’s National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), the IBM Institute for Business Value and the IBM Center for the Business of Government, has laid out strategies on how US federal agencies can improve risk mitigation and resilience when faced with extraordinary events.

The report suggested this could be achieved through partnership between the public and private sectors, as well as between federal, state and local governments. It draws on recent events that caused wide-ranging systemic shocks, such as the US government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adjunct professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University and lead author of the report, Chris Mihm, told Government Executive that when traditional management categories such as planning, risk management, workforce, and use of data are “scaled into collaborative enterprises… they lose their agency-centric approach”.

He added that governments at all levels needed to continue to identify “potential shocks… that can fundamentally alter or undermine their capacity to deliver services and the abilities of their individuals and their communities to respond”.

The report offered various strategic avenues for agencies seeking collaborative solutions to nationwide threats. These included forging networks of partners through memoranda of agreement, rolling out long-term training programmes, and engaging in ‘wargaming’ exercises. It also contained eight imperatives agencies should seek to fulfil when forging relationships with partners, including bettering communication, fast-tracking innovation and ensuring data-driven decision-making.

Mihm called coordinating such networks “an enormous challenge for organisations at all levels of government”, adding that “the centre of the crisis is not the time to be exchanging business cards”.

“Successful networks, especially when they are dealing with future shocks are going to be successful if they establish beforehand all the routines, the understandings, the relationship – both personal and institutional – among the individuals and the organisations so when they are in the middle of a crisis, they can rely on each other,” he said.

Read more: ‘Now everybody feels the stress across the system’: the impact of the era of permacrisis on public servants

UK civil servants report deteriorating relations between officials and ministers in new research

Interviews with current and former UK civil servants about their attitudes to work revealed many are angry at the government’s short-term thinking and have lost respect for senior leadership.

Research by former civil servant Amy Gandon for London-based think tank Reform, included testimonies from 50 past and present policy-orientated officials.

The findings of the research paper, entitled Civil Unrest, described a “noticeable shift” towards more discordant relationships between ministers and officials due to barriers to impactful delivery. Interviewees cited “mutual mistrust” on both sides, which had made it increasingly difficult for officials to give clear and authentic advice to ministers.

Views about political bias in these relationships varied. Some believed ministers were right to suspect officials of bringing a political slant to their roles, whiles others said officials had a duty to challenge ministers but had had their efforts “misinterpreted as resistance”.

Nearly half of the interviewees (47%) described a “marked decline” in accord between politicians and officials in recent years, and 39% attributed worsening outcomes in government to high ministerial turnover.

Gandon’s paper described the interviewees spoken to as “deeply frustrated… and eager for change”, with many saying that government had lost sight of planning for the future and was more focused on “good news stories” than long-term solutions to challenges.

Read more: Lack of ‘female perspective’ in No.10 led to women’s deaths during Covid, says former top UK civil servant

Governments set out plan to ensure AI safety as US makes bid to lead standards

Government leaders from around the world agreed to ensure safe testing of next generation artificial intelligence (AI) models at the first global AI Safety Summit held at the UK’s Bletchley Park on 1-2 November.

The accord involving leading AI nations and private firms outlined the role both parties would play in safely testing frontier AI models before and after deployment.

Speaking at the close of the summit, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak praised the plan for forging a synergy of public and private sector expertise and oversight.

“Until now, the only people testing the safety of new AI models have been the very companies developing it. We shouldn’t rely on them to mark their own homework, as many of them agree,” he said.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, commented: “At the dawn of the intelligent machine age, the huge benefits of AI can be reaped only if we also have guardrails against its risks. The greater the AI capability, the greater the responsibility.”

Days before the summit, on 30 October, US president Joe Biden signed the first executive order from the federal government that directly regulates AI, describing it as the most “significant” action taken on AI by any government to date.

Building on the AI Bill of Rights set out to protect citizens from automated systems in 2022, Biden’s executive order will require tech firms to submit the results of tests performed on their AI systems to the federal government before those systems are released.

Read more: Canadian public servants issued guidelines for using generative AI

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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