For twelve hours, Canadian police lost access to a crucial database – all thanks to a computer glitch.
The Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) is a massive computer database run by the RCMP. Police forces across the country use CPIC to search outstanding warrants, criminal histories, licence plate numbers, and other vital information. Police cruisers equipped with mobile workstations allow police officers to access the database on the front lines.
CPIC is an essential tool in the police arsenal. Working without it is “like flying blind,” according to one officer. If CPIC went down, it would pose a “huge officer safety risk.”
But on Wednesday, that’s exactly what happened.
On January 18 at 11:00PM, CPIC went down. The RCMP sprang into action with a force-wide email informing officers that, “As a result of network issues, CPIC is unavailable for the majority of sites and CPIC messaging is unavailable for all sites.” The database wasn’t restored for another twelve hours.
During this time, police officers across Canada, including the Toronto Police Service, were left in the dark. Without access to CPIC, police couldn’t check for criminal records or warrants. That meant they had no way of knowing who they were dealing with when it came to potential criminals. Some officers had to phone home to the police station and have clerks pull paper records from filing cabinets. Others were left without any information at all.
CBC News caught wind of the outage, but agreed not to report on it until it was over. After all, it could be disastrous if the public knew what was going on. That’s why regular Canadians didn’t learn about the outage until Thursday night.
How could this happen?
The RCMP blames Shared Services Canada, the federal department in charge of IT. Shared Services Canada pointed to routers supporting core IT networks as the root of the problem. But this isn’t the first time a computer glitch has brought down CPIC. The RCMP admits that the system has failed more than a dozen times since last spring.
Regardless of who’s responsible, this incident reminds us of the danger of relying on technology. If a simple computer glitch can put thousands of Canadian police officers at risk, what could sophisticated hackers do? When it comes to the safety of officers and the public, we need to develop a back-up plan – one that doesn’t involve shuffling through filing cabinets in the dead of night.