Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Toews and all his eavesdropping

Update (3:00 p.m.) below.

We have learned this week that the Canada Border Services Agency, under the leadership of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, will be seeking to audio record what travellers are saying in their cars at border crossings and in person at airports. See this report in the Toronto Star yesterday, for example. It is reported there that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has not been consulted on this plan and no privacy impact assessment has been done.

It is the prospect of audio recordings in particular that has galvanized reaction, particularly about privacy rights and the possibilities of abuses that could very well take place.

Toews claimed in the House of Commons yesterday that he was relying upon the Major report and its recommendations out of the Air India inquiry.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told MPs during question period that “I can assure the member that the privacy rights of law-abiding Canadians are respected at all times.”
When reminded that no privacy impact assessment has been done on the audio aspect of the security installation, Toews referred to a report by Justice John Major, the head of the Air India inquiry, and said the government was simply following through on its “action plan” to streamline prosecutions, and boost the safety of air travellers.
“We will continue to take steps in line with the recommendations of Justice Major,” he said.
This is one recommendation from the Major Report, however, that Toews doesn't seem to be giving much consideration:
V. Passenger and Baggage Screening
Recommendation 18
18. Current methods for conducting pre-board screening (PBS) are comprehensive, but improvements are required in their application.
18.1. Although technology has enhanced the ability to effectively conduct PBS, that technology should rarely be relied upon exclusively.
When selecting equipment and procedures for passenger screening, consideration should be given to individual rights, including privacy rights and the rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In particular, any consideration of behavioural analysis techniques as a tool for PBS must include a thorough review. Concerns about the risk of racial, ethnic and religious profiling must be given specific and careful attention. If a decision is made to implement such a program, the following must be addressed: effectiveness of the measure; competencies, training (initial and ongoing) and testing required of those who would conduct the analysis; and oversight requirements.
18.2. Given the importance of the “no search, no fly” rule and the potential impact of security measures on individual rights, Transport Canada and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada should collaborate to devise tools and criteria to evaluate proposed security measures.
(Volume 4: Aviation Security, Chapter IV, Recommendation 18)

Ideally, this latest set of eavesdropping plans should be halted altogether. Failing that, Toews should follow the the Major report's recommendations, as he claims to be doing, and at a minimum, work with the Privacy Commissioner's office on these CBSA plans. Or, Transport Canada should.

Update (3:00 p.m.): Vic has taken in the blow back and now walks back the eavesdropping plans: "Border agency told to halt eavesdropping on travellers." But stay tuned, it's just on hold until a privacy impact assessment can be made.