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Are we living in the most secure era ever? That depends on your definition of the word and the context, but there’s no doubt that today’s security technology has made many of our public and private spaces far safer than in the past. From ultra HD surveillance cameras with facial recognition technology to ultra-secure biometrics, the tools that organizations have at their disposal to prevent or respond to unwelcome or emergency incidents are truly unprecedented. So much so that privacy concerns are now running up against security innovations, fueling legal and social tensions along the way.

Case in point: there is a fast-growing movement across Canada to limit the use of some advanced tools, specifically surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software. Last month the Canadian Civil Liberties Association issued a call  for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in a wide range of settings. While stakeholders from law enforcement officials to business and commercial property owners would make an argument for the tech’s utility, social advocates counter that the privacy trade-off is far too great at this point. Better to stall a widespread rollout until a proper legal and regulatory framework can be built to control its use.

That comes on the heels of a new Ernst and Young report  indicating that COVID-19 seems to have changed Canadians’ expectations of data privacy. Fully 63 per cent of survey respondents said knowing how their data was collected and stored was of prime importance, along with control over what data is being shared (57 per cent), their trust in the organization sharing their data (51 per cent) and knowing how their data is managed, shared and used (45 per cent).

“The pandemic has ushered in significant changes that may have altered consumers’ attitudes toward data privacy, but they are unwavering about the importance of security,” the report’s authors note.

Security vs. privacy

In residential settings, those expectations are reaching new heights. Rental tenants and condominium owners alike are growing increasingly concerned that their movements are being monitored on a daily basis. In some cases, they are. Surveillance systems have long kept track of the movement of people and packages across residential environments, but new technology has delivered exponential enhancements in monitoring capabilities. In the vast majority of cases, however, their deployment is intended strictly to deter crime or inappropriate behaviour. The reality is that most commercial and residential property management firms–who are dealing with a raft of new challenges related to COVID-19–lack the staff (let alone the desire) to leverage that data in ways that would be of any reasonable concern to residents.

It’s simply available as a tool to review traffic flow in case of an incident, or to piece together timelines in the event of an accident. Reviewing an incident using surveillance footage is usually a key tool in preventing a similar occurrence from happening in future. The real question that residential stakeholders need to answer is whether privacy trumps protection in residential settings.

With license-plate recognizing cameras collecting data in parking lots and garages, and biometrics recording even more sensitive information every time residents enter a building, do new technologies cross an ethical—and even legal—line? Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, some residential communities in Canada have gone as far as to implement contact tracing and temperature monitoring (sometimes using high-tech cameras) to protect their residents and mitigate risk of an outbreak on their premises.

The urgent circumstances of the emergency aside, will we eventually regard these health and safety measures as a step too far?

Balancing privacy and protection 

The obvious solution involves implementing an effective security strategy that balances the right to privacy with the need for protection. That means customizing tactics to suit the needs of the residential community in question, be it housed in an ultra-tall downtown tower or a densely-packed rental building. Property managers are best advised to develop a series of privacy protocols that outline how personal data will be collected, stored, managed and eventually expunged. Access to that data must be tightly controlled. And that not only means limiting the personnel who can review it, but determining how it will be stored (e.g., on a local server or in the cloud). What cybersecurity tools will be used to mitigate the risk of a breach?

The best way to ease residents’ concerns over how their data is used is to build trust and remain transparent. By communicating on a regular basis—in some cases perhaps even developing a committee comprised of management and residents that’s tasked with setting guidelines to handle that data—reviewing and revising policies as needed and then erasing that data at predetermined intervals, most residents will be comfortable with having their personal details collected and stored.

Work with your security provider or a specialized data-management consultant to start and manage this process. Handling sensitive data is best left to the experts. Rest assured, your residents will appreciate the time and attention to detail in managing their personal information.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO

It goes without saying that 2020 is a year that many of us will be glad to forget, just as we look forward to a socially-distanced and happy holiday with loved ones. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has challenged everyone from individual Canadians and healthcare professionals to business owners and bureaucrats in ways that we couldn’t have imagined as recently as early March. But the many struggles of the COVID-19 crisis have also reaffirmed our strength and resilience as a country. In the face of adversity, we adapted and managed, even as we continue to mourn the many lives lost and the scores of businesses brought down by the ensuing economic disruption.

The security industry has not been immune to the pandemic’s harsh economic impact. Companies large and small have reeled as affected sectors such as hospitality, travel and retail were forced into shutdown mode or were suddenly required to scale back business in ways that immediately lessened the need for security coverage. But I’m proud to say that through it all, Wincon Security has managed to not only navigate these stormy waters, but thrive.

The reason, of course, is because we’ve built incredible partnerships with our many clients. Their loyalty and support has been pivotal to Wincon’s success for more than 26 years, and in hard times, they’ve remained by our side. We’re grateful for the opportunity to protect their people, property and assets, and we can’t wait to see how we can find new ways to meet their security needs in the years ahead. The push to constantly improve is a core value, one that we embrace and also consider a responsibility that we simply won’t take for granted—it will continue to drive us to deliver even better service to our customers long after this pandemic has passed.

Case in point: We made significant investments to upgrade our technology infrastructure this year, while also working to enhance our employee training and development programs. We believe that delivering effective security solutions is about far more than doing the basics. In most cases, our security personnel are not only frontline representatives of Wincon Security, but also of our clients’ brands—be they retailers, commercial property managers, or any company in between. Their work on-site can significantly impact that brand experience, which is why we constantly strive for new ways to enhance our team’s customer service skills with real-world, situational training.

Of course, helping our customers succeed means staying at the forefront of new technology reshaping our industry. We’ve continued to research the latest in security software and hardware from facial-recognition cameras to advanced biometric systems that could have applications across both commercial and residential properties. That work is ongoing as we enhance our organizational commitment to research and development, which includes enhancing our own back-end technology infrastructure—a critical investment that enabled much of our administrative staff to work remotely during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, none of our success would be possible were it not for the tireless dedication, professionalism and hard work of our team members. At the pandemic’s peak, they put themselves in higher-risk public settings to ensure that our clients’ properties and people were kept safe and secure. They neither complained nor refused the challenge. Instead, they made it to work each and every day with an attitude that exemplified the very best that Wincon Security has to offer.

To better protect them, we recently implemented a new Whistleblower Program that provides a mechanism to report everything from sexual harassment to any form of unwelcome behaviour experienced while on the job. We’re committed to providing a safe, welcoming and fruitful workplace experience—and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that our company culture isn’t negatively impacted by unacceptable behaviour. Our whistleblower directive to employees is simple: If you see something, say something.

So, as we look back on 2020 and raise a glass with the promise of a better 2021 ahead, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you and your family a happy holiday and a healthy New Year. While rising COVID-19 case counts remind us that difficult months still lie ahead, vaccines give us hope that a return to normal is on the horizon. This year proved that we can make it to the finish line—safely, securely, together.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO

When news broke recently that the Swedish Data Protection Authority fined a local municipality more than USD $20,000 for privacy violations, it marked the emergence of a potential new front in the struggle to balance privacy rights and security requirements.

Under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—sweeping legislation that governs everything from website tracking to data collection practices across the 28-member European Union and European Economic Area—the use of data gathered with the help of facial recognition and biometric software is restricted and tightly controlled. Apparently a school board in Sweden didn’t get the memo and used facial recognition software to track high school student attendance over a three-week trial period intended to test out new technology.

The school board saw the tracking software as a more efficient use of teacher’s classroom time. According to media reports, attendance-conscious educators had apparently been devoting about 17,000 hours a year to keeping tabs on their pupils. The SDPA saw the matter differently and issued the significant fine, a first for Sweden.

Tech as a security tool, but to what end? 

The European Union has taken the lead in legislating to secure privacy rights and protect citizens, just as authorities in other regions have turned to cutting-edge new technology designed to enhance protection measures for the general public. In the wake of recent shootings in Toronto, for example, the city’s community housing agency has announced plans to increase video surveillance in at-risk neighbourhoods, all to help deter crime and aid police enforcement efforts. In the United Kingdom, cities such as London have long relied on street-level surveillance to maintain safety. The U.S. government has been using biometric technology, including the fingerprinting of foreign visitors, at border crossings for years.

The challenge that arises, of course, is when governments abuse these tools. China has faced widespread criticism for its use of facial recognition and data collection programs in its western provinces to track the local Uyghur community. In other parts of the country, Beijing actively uses technology to help silence or monitor anti-government voices. Many liken the tactics to an Orwellian invasion of privacy, an effort to enforce government-sanctioned values on an unassuming populace.

If a school board in Sweden uses facial recognition technology to track students, some argue, it’s not far-fetched to expect a more widespread application of that software across society. In the hands of a trusted few there isn’t much concern. But what happens if those individuals can no longer be trusted?

Legal systems adapting to new technology 

The reality is the use of technology as a protective tool is hardly novel and, in most cases, isn’t nearly as sinister as some may contend. The big question, as with the example from Sweden, is to what degree governments will tolerate its use. Authorities in Canada are beginning to weigh in on the safety and security vs. privacy debate.

In Ontario, for example, a labour arbitrator recently ruled in Teamsters Local Union No. 230 v Innocon Inc., that a concrete delivery company (Innocon) had the right to install cameras in its trucks to help improve driver safety and highlight potential driver misconduct by recording a driver’s actions, but only in the event that the vehicle swerved unexpectedly or took some form of evasive action that could indicate erroneous or erratic driving. In the arbitrator’s view, some level of in-cab monitoring was justified because an employer’s business interests can supersede an employee’s right to privacy under specific circumstances.

Security strategies for business

Business owners should be aware that at any point, our legal landscape could shift and new laws could limit the use of biometric or facial technology when used in public spaces or workplaces. But I predict that governments will take a measured approach to balancing privacy and security concerns. It’s likely that we will see a tightening of privacy restrictions in Ontario and across Canada at some point. In the meantime, however, your focus should be on assessing your organization’s security vulnerabilities and taking an integrated approach to protecting your people and assets.

That means reviewing the plethora of tech tools available on the market and deciding which ones make sense for your organization based on its operational needs. Facial recognition technology may make sense for a retailer with several busy locations, for example, but could provide little benefit to a software development firm with much simpler security needs. Be prepared to customize your strategy and invest in security components that will make a decided impact in helping mitigate risk and advancing your organization’s strategic goals (e.g., not being robbed, having your data held hostage or seeing your commercial property or workplace invaded).

But first, take the time to understand your jurisdiction’s privacy laws. Make sure your security strategy doesn’t violate any rules when the time comes to implement cutting-edge—yet potentially controversial—security technology.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

When most Canadian students venture off to college or university, on-campus security is one of the last things on their mind. Studying, gaining the skills to build a meaningful career and developing important social networks and potential future business contacts—not to mention the odd party here are there—tend to top their priority list.

That’s why it’s incumbent on the administrators and managers of post-secondary institutions to take security seriously, even if their students don’t. While most Canadian campuses are remarkably safe, incidents still occur. From a night of drinking gone awry to sexual assaults, students and staff can be particularly vulnerable targets, for a variety of reasons.

The first has to do with age and inexperience. Most students are relatively young, and many are living away from home for the first time—in some cases in a large, far-away town or city. They don’t necessarily fully understand or address the risks before them. Being ‘street smart’ is a skill learned over time through experience. Second, would-be predators often gravitate towards campuses simply due to the prevalence of potential targets. Security threats abound.

The good news is that most colleges and universities do a good job protecting their students, even if gaps persist. In particular in the #MeToo era, with the increased focus on preventing sexual violence both on-campus and off, we need to do more to ensure that Canadians can live on campuses or attend classes in the safest environment possible.

At Wincon Security, we’ve been providing on-campus security services for the entirety of our 25-year history. Our systems continue to evolve to include the newest and most effective security techniques, while our embrace of technology as an integrated solutions provider has allowed us to introduce cutting-edge equipment to the benefit of our post-secondary partners.

There are still many colleges and universities, however, that haven’t embraced a proactive, comprehensive approach to security. If yours falls into that category, here are four steps you should take now to better secure your campus:

Set smart policies—Each campus and student body are different, so a one-size-fits-all security approach is bound to fail. Customize your strategy to suit everything from your collegiate culture to geographic realities. If yours is a sprawling campus that hasn’t yet introduced a buddy system where students (or student volunteers) are made available to walk their peers to and from class at nighttime, consider that simple policy change an important and simple first step to improving campus security. In addition, take the time to review policies for on-campus alcohol consumption—perhaps limiting the duration of sanctioned parties or events, for example—which can be a common cause of security-related challenges. Whatever the tactics that work best in your particular circumstance, save the theoretical discussions for philosophy class and take action now to develop and implement effective, practical policies that address your school’s unique needs.

Improve on-campus lighting and landscaping—This is a tactic that any commercial or residential property owner can leverage, but it’s one that’s particularly important for universities and colleges. Put simply, dark places overgrown with foliage are the perfect hiding spot for nefarious characters. By trimming hedges back and creating clear sightlines, security professionals have a much better chance of catching bad guys before they can cause harm to students and faculty. While improved LED lighting delivers illuminating security benefits, it also gives an aesthetic boost to a gloomy campus. In other words, it’s a worthwhile investment in a variety of ways.

Leverage technology—From high-tech cameras to advanced biometrics, many colleges and universities have already made significant investments in the latest and greatest security technologies. But more can be done to ensure safety. We’ve seen organizations glean major benefits from the introduction of tools such as facial-recognition software to help identify criminals caught on camera after an incident has occurred. We’ve also seen schools tap advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to highlight areas of potential risk. Some schools are even using drones and robots to patrol campuses. All of these tools cost money to introduce, of course, so if they haven’t already, safety-conscious institutions should start budgeting now to upgrade their security infrastructure.

Hire trained staff—Whether your college or university hires and manages its own security staff or outsources the task to a third-party security provider, it’s imperative that security personnel are trained and experienced in the unique aspects of protecting a campus, both inside and outside of its many buildings. Look to hire a security firm with a comprehensive training program and ask about its employee turnover rates. While staff churn is high in the security business, if the firm admits that it turns over most of its staff every year, it can be a sign of mismanagement and could pose business service continuity challenges. In addition, having trained security staff will help bolster a shared culture of safety where students can rest easy knowing that those assigned to ensure their protection not only understand the importance of their role, but are equipped to do the job right.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

A lot has changed in your business since 1992, the year I founded Wincon Security. You’re undoubtedly facing a vastly different array of complex business challenges—particularly where security is concerned. Finding innovative new ways to bolster everything from your cyber security infrastructure to guarding against facility break-ins—to name only a few obstacles to success—has become increasingly complicated.

A lot has changed in my business, too. What hasn’t is our commitment to service excellence and a dedication to employing the latest cutting-edge technology to keep you and your properties safe. As we’ve worked to maintain those high standards, our business has evolved.

We do far more than train and staff security guards these days, which was the original foundation on which our business was built. We’re now a full-service integrated solutions provider focused on delivering enhanced value to our customers. We build relationships based on trust, while always standing behind our commitment to help you drive improved bottom-line performance from the services we deliver.

That alone would be enough to celebrate in our 25th year in business. But there’s a lot more we’d like you to know about Wincon Security and where the company is headed.

Humble beginnings deliver game-changing opportunities

When I launched the company in the early 1990s, the Internet was slowly gaining mainstream acceptance. Mobile phones were expensive and in limited use. Fax was still a primary means of business communication. And in our industry, facility security was largely managed by key-wielding guards who spent days and nights patrolling buildings or monitoring CCTV cameras, searching for potential problems along the way. It was a very different business environment.

I was a young, untested 21-year-old entrepreneur who’d only recently graduated from Seneca College’s law enforcement program. Despite my inexperience, I saw gaps in the security marketplace and figured I could plug them. A couple of jobs in the security field gave me the opportunity to listen to clients who felt they weren’t receiving the kind of value-for-service they expected from their supposedly customer-focused security providers. Those experiences largely shaped my vision for the kind of security offering Wincon could provide. I knew I could do it better, so I did.

We started out with just one client—who we’re proud to say is still part of the Wincon family—and a handful of employees. We’ve since expanded the business and now serve more than 50 Canadian and international corporations, and maintain a roster of more than 200 full- and part-time employees. As with any business, we’ve had to pivot at various points in our history, particularly with the advent of incredible new technology that seemed like the stuff of science fiction in our early days.

A new focus on solving business challenges

So, about five years ago, we started branching into systems solution integration, incorporating high-definition cameras, advanced biometrics, card access systems and cutting-edge security software into our security tool kit. We even use drones for facility patrols, helping to cut costs, improve efficiency and further reduce risk for owners and managers of retail, commercial, condominium, office and industrial properties. By building strong partnerships with suppliers across North America and beyond, we now have access to high-tech equipment capable of meeting virtually any security need you might have, particularly when coupled with our 24-hour support and facility monitoring service.

That focus on innovation was driven by a desire to continue being the Greater Toronto Area’s security service provider of choice for the next decade and beyond—admittedly not an easy feat in a highly-competitive industry such as ours. We believe that with new technology in hand and a focus on solutions integration, we can continue to personalize our service offering to better suit organizations such as yours.

A service-first culture

Thanks to our boutique structure, we’re able to sit down with you, listen and take the time to understand your needs, inspect your property and review assets in need of protection, then deliver a customized service plan that’s both affordable and sustainable. We take pride in identifying and helping you understand the vulnerabilities you don’t even know you had.

All of this means continuing to find new ways to improve training for our staff and enhancing client communications. The former process is ongoing as we introduce new technology to our employees and train them on its effective deployment. When it comes to communications, we have plans to keep you better informed than ever thanks to a new blogging, social media and newsletter initiative that will showcase everything from industry insights and risk-mitigation strategies, to Wincon news and developments across our company.

While I’m so proud to celebrate our 25TH year, I’m even more excited about the opportunity to be of greater service to you in the years ahead.

Winston Stewart, founder

Wincon Security