Ontario’s privacy commissioner says she is appalled that Ottawa plans to start eavesdropping on travellers’ conversation at airports and border crossings.
Ann Cavoukian said while it is federal jurisdiction she is no less taken aback that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is installing high-definition cameras and microphones with eventual plans to record what people are saying as they pass through certain areas of international airports and land crossings.
She told the Toronto Star Monday it is one thing to videotape travellers but an entirely different thing to record conversations.
“I just find that appalling,” Cavoukian said, adding even her federal counterpart Jennifer Stoddart wasn’t aware of the audio aspect of the CBSA plans.
The CBSA could not be reached for comment.
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.
A spokesperson for the federal privacy commissioner confirmed there has been no Privacy Impact Assessment, which ensures government measures that affect privacy are necessary and face proper scrutiny.
“The recording of conversations obviously constitutes a privacy intrusion. We would want the CBSA to demonstrate the necessity for it. In addition, should the measure be deemed necessary, CBSA would have to demonstrate that it has proper safeguards to manage the information, proper compliance mechanisms and appropriate oversight,” she said.
Privacy lawyer David Fraser maintained Ottawa has no business recording what travellers have to say either at an airport or border crossing.
“Covertly monitoring . . . all of their conversations, that’s pretty intrusive . . . I think that’s a little extreme,” said Fraser, a privacy expert at the Halifax law firm of McInnes Cooper.
He predicts that anything collected by this monitoring system that leads to charges will be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the basis that their rights were infringed.
“You could totally imagine somebody saying (something innocuous) and it being misconstrued and that bad things happen as a consequence,” Fraser told the Star Monday. He added, however, that information from the CBSA is rather sketchy now.
Conversations are not being recorded yet.
“It is important to note that even though audio technology is installed, no audio is recorded at this time. It will become functional at a later date,” CBSA spokesman Chris Kealey said in a written statement to the Ottawa Citizen.
The CBSA stated that the public will be given ample notice when these systems are up and working. A privacy notice is to be posted on the CBSA website.
Canada News: Ottawa