Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 8 News List

NIA errors damage national security

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

On Jan. 5, the computer system used by the National Immigration Agency (NIA) to store large amounts of information and to check travel documents crashed for a total of 36 hours.

As a result, all of Taiwan’s airports were unable to access crucial online information, which not only caused problems for travelers wanting to enter or exit Taiwan, but also severely damaged the nation’s reputation in terms of national security and the international image of Taiwanese airports.

While a large computer crash like this may seem to be a technical problem, a look at the crisis management during the 36 hours the system was down reveals problems with the national security system.

What is the source of this systemic problem?

We can examine these problems by looking at the way the situation was handled before and after it occurred.

Media reports said the NIA had reported the computer problems to higher authorities prior to the incident but had received no response.

This shows that there were communication problems between the NIA and higher authorities, which implies that these superiors were insensitive to the link between information security and national security.

While the NIA appears to fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior, border control and immigration affairs involve the work of the National Security Bureau, the Mainland Affairs Council, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior.

All of these organizations rank higher than the NIA, and there are many blind spots when it comes to communication between the NIA and these organizations.

To be more precise, many of the NIA’s problems may occur because of unclear organizational definitions and objectives. It is not clear whether the NIA should focus on immigration matters or inspection and control matters.

However, the NIA’s superiors are apparently hoping the agency will focus more on immigration matters. This may have resulted in less attention being given to the affairs of inspection and control departments, and it is this lack of attention that may have resulted in the recent gap in our national security.

The NIA was established two years ago because it was decided that an organization with unified regulatory authority was needed to handle immigration matters in a better way. The problem with this was that the authorities rushed their approval of the establishment of the NIA.

This meant that the NIA did not receive adequate time to transform itself and train its staff, which caused the organization to be plagued by inadequacies even before it was established, and full of imbalances after it was up and running.

To my understanding, when the NIA was initially established there were many interorganizational integration and adjustment problems. These included problems within the NIA itself as well as between the NIA and other organizations. The internal integration problems came from having to integrate civil servants and police personnel with the police personnel coming from the Aviation Police Office, the foreign affairs police and civil servants coming from the Ministry of the Interior.

Problems with integration were bound to occur when people from different systems and cultures came together to work, especially if they were not given long-term training and adequate time to get accustomed to one another.

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