Friday, June 22, 2012

CBSA comes clean on border surveillance -- not as bad as speculated

After a full week of speculation about the reported plan of the Canada Border Services Agency to intercept the private conversations of travelers in Canadian airports, the CBSA has finally come out with information about the scope of the project. And it's not as bad as the speculation. (Lesson here for the government: Be proactive about disclosing projects and policies that potentially infringe on the privacy rights of Canadians. If the media scoop you, quickly come clean and be truthful. Waiting a week is a VERY BAD idea.)

According to a policy manual obtained by the CBC under the Access to Information Act, the surveillance plan would not be intercepting private communications of travelers while they are waiting to see a CBSA officer on entry, but would be used to record the interviews and interactions between travelers and those CBSA Officers. (See: Border agency policy spells out surveillance rules - Politics - CBC News.)

If that's the full extent of it, it's simply not as bad as speculated. A conversation between a vacationing couple in the line-up is a private communication that can only be intercepted with a warrant signed by a judicial officer. But a conversation with a government official can't be said to be a private communication and just doesn't have the same expectation of privacy.

However, I don't think this is the last we're hearing on this. But at least it's not as bad as it first appeared.

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