Privacy Commissioner Raises Flag Over Possible U.S. Border Password Searches

    Jun 13, 2017

    As reported on, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien says that Canadians’ privacy could be jeopardized by U.S. plans to demand cellphone and social media passwords from foreign visitors.

    In a letter to the House of Commons public safety committee, Therrien warns that the pronouncements from the Trump administration could mean intrusive searches, even at pre-clearance facilities in Canada.

    In February, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggested that American officials could ask people entering the United States about the Internet sites they visit and request their passwords to help gauge their online activities.

    The proposal prompted an American coalition of human rights and civil liberties groups and experts in security, technology, and the law to express “deep concern.”

    Currently, passengers flying to American cities through the major Canadian airports can be precleared there by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

    The Commons public safety committee is reviewing legislation that expands preclearance operations. Under the bill, U.S. searches at such facilities would be governed by Canadian law, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    But Therrien says those protections may be hollow because they could not be enforced in court due to immunity provisions that limit access to civil remedies for the actions of U.S. border officers carrying out preclearance duties.

    Therrien, in his letter, says that in many situations “it would appear that Canadians who wish to enter the U.S. will, at preclearance locations in Canada as well as at border points in the U.S., have to face the difficult choice of either accepting a search without grounds or forgoing their wish to travel to the U.S.”

    Under long-standing plans, preclearance is being expanded to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and Quebec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport, as well as for rail service in Montreal and Vancouver.

    In March, Canada and the United States agreed to bring preclearance to other unspecified locations.

    The Liberal government says preclearance arrangements would strengthen security and prosperity while ensuring respect for the sovereignty of both countries.

     This monthly advisory contains brief summaries of recent legislative and regulatory issues that may affect the management of records and information in Canada.

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