Privacy czar to audit flow of info to U.S.
Canadian safeguards don't apply once personal data crosses border: Stoddart Andrew Duffy
The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Canada's Privacy Commissioner has launched an examination of the cross-border flow of personal information hastened by the war on terror.
The commissioner's first-ever such audit will focus on information about Canadians that's being sent to United States security agencies via the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, the agency manages all aspects of Canada's border with the U.S., including trade, customs, intelligence gathering, visitor screening and the removal of illegal aliens.
The agency is also responsible for implementing the Smart Border Declaration with the U.S., which sets out a 30-point action plan to improve border security and information sharing between the two countries.
Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said the audit will help Canadians understand where their personal information is going, how it is being used in the U.S. and what safeguards or limits are in place.
"It's a fairly modest incursion into this world," Ms. Stoddart said in describing the audit which is expected to be completed late this year.
Details are now being negotiated with officials from the border services agency.
Ms. Stoddart said the exercise will also help her to understand the extent of her office's statutory powers and what needs to be done to burnish them in future.
"I felt we had to attempt to do this," she said.
Under terms of the smart border agreement signed in December 2001, Canada and the U.S. agreed to share airline passenger information, customs data, criminal records and fingerprints while working toward "parallel immigration databases to facilitate regular information exchange."
Roch Tasse, co-ordinator of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, yesterday welcomed the privacy commissioner's decision to launch an audit of the transborder flow of personal information.
"We have been very concerned about a lot of these new information sharing arrangements," Mr. Tasse said yesterday.
"The smart border agreement is not an agreement that has been legislated; in many ways, it is bureaucrats and security agencies making the arrangements that are dismantling the privacy regime that Canada has known up until now."
Information that crosses the border, he said, can legally be shared by 15
national security agencies in the U.S., including the FBI and CIA.
"This is such a serious issue, it has to be taken out of the hands of bureaucrats," Mr. Tasse said. "Because once information is in the hands of a U.S. agency, none of our guarantees in Canada about privacy rights can be applied."
Some Canadians have already been prevented from crossing the border by virtue of information wrongfully provided to U.S. officials, he warned.
A truck driver recently complained to the Civil Liberties Monitoring Group because he was refused entry to the U.S. based on a conviction for marijuana possession, even though that record had been officially erased in Canada by a pardon.
Alaska Highway News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 Sterling Newspapers Ltd.