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CBSA looking to collect information as people leave the country, but raises privacy concerns

Last Updated Mar 23, 2019 at 10:43 am PDT

(Tom Walsh, CityNews Vancouver)

Immigration lawyer fears ID technology will lead to personal information being picked up in places besides the border

CBSA says info is needed to identify high-risk travellers and people trying to defraud the government

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Canada is moving to make it easier to find out who, when and for how long people are leaving Canada.

According to a lengthy report released by the Canada Border Services Agency earlier this month, the government doesn’t currently have access to reliable exit information on everyone leaving Canada.

It cites a number of reasons why the information would be helpful. For example, exit data would facilitate investigations into people who might be leaving to participate in illegal activities.

“In recent years, the Government of Canada has seen a number of individuals travelling to foreign destinations to engage in terrorist activities,” it says. “The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence recommended that Government move as soon as possible to implement a system to register the entry and exit information of all travellers in light of growing international security concerns.”

The data would also allow the CBSA to confirm travel dates when determining what duties are owed by people returning to Canada.

The information would also be shared, according to the report. It says exit data would be provided to immigration personnel, to help them determine whether applicants comply with residency requirements.

It would also be provided to departments that administer social benefit programs, to identify when someone may be out of the country, and not eligible for benefits.

Travellers won’t be asked to directly provide the information to the CBSA. The report says “the information would be collected from reliable third-party partners through existing IT infrastructure.”

And that’s where Radio Frequency Identification Technology comes into play – and where privacy concerns are being raised by Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who unearthed the report.

Over a year ago, the CBSA announced it would be using the ID technology at ports of entry to quickly collect traveller information as they entered Canada. A reader picks up the information from chips embedded in Nexus passes, permanent residency cards, enhanced drivers licences and passports.

Now, the CBSA would like their US counterparts to collect that data as people enter the US, both on land and by air.

Kurland says that’s problematic.

“These are agreements between nations to exchange exactly this type of information without the consent of the individual,” he says.

And he’s concerned about tracking beyond the border, with the ID technology.

“What the American government has already done is installed on its major highways devices to capture information that’s on these government chips,” he says. “The technology is going to allow for other government ID chips in things like drivers permits to continuously be uploaded into government surveillance programs.”

Kurland fears what he calls “continuum tracking” and your name being shared across jurisdictions, where you’re more vulnerable to problems like mistaken identity, for which there is no remedy.

“I have seen it. You’re mistaken for someone with the same name and the same birthdate, you can find yourself being barred from entering the US, and you don’t why. It’s because of a data match that you are unaware of.”

He says an oversight body is needed to monitor exactly what’s done with the information once it’s collected. In last week’s federal budget, there was a commitment made to fund a watchdog to handle complaints against the CBSA.

The CBSA report says personal information collected under the Entry/Exit Initiative will be retained for no more than 15 years and says it has completed a privacy impact assessment in consultation with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

Once the proposed regulations are in place, the agency says it will assess whether the same exit information should be collected for people leaving Canada by rail or by sea.