We, the Home Affairs, Interior, Security and Immigration Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America (the ‘Five Countries’) met via video conference on 7/8 April 2021, just over a year after the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Guided by our shared responsibility and commitment to build a more peaceful and secure world for our citizens, we came together to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on migration and borders, enhance cooperation on violent extremism, and discuss other key national security areas of shared concern.
The Migration and Border Implications of COVID-19
The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced countries to place significant travel and border restrictions on our economies and communities. In support of the safe and sustainable resumption of international travel at scale, economic recovery, family reunification and to support our migration and humanitarian programmes, we agreed to continue sharing best practices on innovative and effective border and migration measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although COVID-19 has created many challenges, the pandemic has also spurred innovation in the area of migration management, including an acceleration towards digitalised, contactless, and online processes. These have immense potential to improve the traveller experience, increase efficient border management, and improve traveller screening prior to and at the border. As such, we agreed to continue sharing information on our respective areas of innovation and to learn from one another.
We also recognise the potential for irregular migration and human smuggling to increase once border restrictions are lifted, and agreed to work together to assess emerging irregular migration trends and threats, while continuing our close collaboration to protect the integrity of our asylum and refugee systems.
We acknowledge the role that biosecure international travel will have in the global economic recovery. We affirmed our joint work and cooperation with other likeminded countries to shape international standards and best practice to support a resilient bio-secure international travel system.
Countering the Threat of Foreign Interference and Unwanted Knowledge Transfer in Academia, Research and Development Sectors
The pursuit of scientific knowledge requires an open, transparent, and collaborative research environment, which is fundamental to fostering innovation and economic prosperity. Foreign interference and unwanted knowledge transfer in our academic, research and development sectors are of deep concern, and are prejudicial to our sovereignty and national interests, contrary to internationally accepted norms and values, and must be stopped.
We committed to work together, along with likeminded countries through multilateral fora, to share experiences and report on our progress to build collective resilience in the academic, research and development sectors against foreign interference and the unwanted transfer of knowledge. We also agreed to cooperate to ensure that migration and border measures can help address the threat posed by foreign actors, who seek to exploit our systems in order to access, and ultimately abuse, our collaborative research environment.
International Co-operation and Cybercrime
Experts have predicted that the influx of cybercrime during COVID-19 will cost the global economy $6USD trillion in 2021. With the rapid and ongoing digitization of society many threat actors, including cyber criminals and state-directed threat actors, have shifted their malicious activity online, targeting all areas of civil society with increasingly sophisticated cyber tools.
We unequivocally condemn malicious cyber activity in all its forms, particularly when it is conducted against critical infrastructure and healthcare facilities. To combat this threat, we will build on existing mechanisms to increase our respective societies’ resilience and capacity to prevent, discourage and counter the threat of ransomware and other vulnerabilities, including those inspired by or exacerbated by the pandemic.
Cybercrime is a global problem that requires international cooperation to effectively combat it. We will continue to encourage countries to join the Budapest Convention and work to ensure that any new international mechanism to combat cybercrime, such as negotiation of a UN cybercrime convention, is consistent with and does not conflict with existing obligations, and adequately protects human rights, privacy and fundamental freedoms. We underscored our collective commitment to uphold privacy, transparency, civil rights and civil liberties as we perform our public safety and security.
Tackling the Growing Threat of Ransomware
The use of ransomware is growing and poses a significant threat to governments, critical infrastructure, and essential services on which all our citizens depend. Ransomware can also directly impact individuals and businesses, with potential cascading consequence. It can be used with criminal intent, however, it is also a threat to national security.
The indiscriminate and reckless nature of many ransomware attacks stand out as particularly egregious, malicious cyber activity. We unequivocally condemn this behavior in all its forms, particularly when it is conducted against critical infrastructure and healthcare facilities. Such activity can risk lives and jeopardises confidence in our efforts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
We stand united in our commitment to prevent and counter the threat of ransomware. We remind states of their responsibilities under international law and applicable norms of responsible State behaviour. We endorse the Five Country Ministerial Statement Regarding the Threat of Ransomware (attached). We will continue to collaborate to progress this area of work.
Continuing the Fight Against Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
Online child sexual exploitation and abuse is an escalating, global crime that demands a global response. New technologies and COVID-19 risk compounding the scale and impact of this threat. We will go further to protect children from this horrific crime.
We support strong encryption and agreed to continue to pursue a collaborative approach between governments and digital industry to provide products and services that are safe by design. It is critical that the implementation of these technologies is consistent with keeping children and the wider public safe.
We reflected on the Phoenix 11 survivors’ recent statement that: ‘One year ago, industry pledged to do better, and we are still waiting’. Whilst we welcome the Technology Coalition’s launch of “Project Protect”, further action is needed. We call on all technology companies to endorse the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and report transparently on their implementation.
We must continue supporting law enforcement to identify offenders and victims in the Five Countries’ territories. We have therefore committed to a feasibility study regarding the potential development of a specific combined dataset for use by our law enforcement agencies.
Future Five Country Ministerial Meetings
We reiterated our commitment to keep working together and look forward to meeting face to face, when it is safe to do so. Until then, we will continue to meet virtually to advance cooperation among our nations on security, border and migration issues that ensure the public continue to be protected.