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NEWS: Canadians concerned about privacy and sovereignty implications of perimeter security

Yesterday, the Harper government released two reports on perimeter security. News articles by the Toronto Star, the Canadian Press, the Toronto Sun, and the CBC highlight that the report on consultations conducted with business associations, civil society groups, and 1,000 submissions from individual Canadians, as well as the report on streamlined regulations between Canada and the United States, indicated strong privacy and sovereignty concerns from Canadians.

1. CONSULTATION REPORT: The Toronto Star reports, “Plans for increased border security and a better trade agreement between Canada and the United States shouldn’t come at the expense of fewer safeguards on personal information or the loss of national sovereignty. That’s the message to Ottawa from individual Canadians who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding the North American perimeter security deal that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama are working toward. …’These concerns centered on the loss of sovereignty, the protection of personal information shared between the two countries, and a general sentiment that not enough was known about the proposed measures’.”

The Canadian Press adds, “Canadians consulted on a controversial border security deal still in the works with the United States aren’t sold on boosting collaboration between the two countries’ law enforcement officials, a new report suggests. …Nearly half of Canadians who weighed in opposed greater integration of law enforcement between Canada and the U.S. Many voiced concerns about information sharing and the impact of joint programs on civil liberties, the report says.”

The Toronto Sun highlights, “Citizens worry their privacy and Canadian sovereignty is being overshadowed by security concerns. These were predominant themes in two reports released by the federal government on Monday. …The 1,000 people that participated expressed concerns about the sharing of their personal and travel information between Canadian and U.S. authorities.”

And the CBC notes, “Privacy and information sharing are a concern for Canadians who wrote to the government about border talks with the U.S., according to a report released by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird Monday. …Individual Canadians (are) concerned about maintaining privacy rights. The report says they voiced concerns about information sharing with the U.S. government.”

The concerns expressed are consistent with an Ipsos-Reid poll released this past February that found, as reported by the Vancouver Sun, that, “(68 per cent) of Canadians fear Prime Minister Stephen Harper will ‘compromise’ by giving up too much power over immigration, privacy and security to get a deal with the United States on border controls…”

In terms of specific concerns, the CBC says, “The report says airline, airport and tourism industry groups are pushing the government to share passenger information with U.S. authorities, including merging no-fly lists and introducing a joint visa entry-exit system. Under a joint entry-exit system, Canada’s entry data would serve as the United States’ exit system, and vice versa, the report notes. If integrated entry-exit systems were developed, both countries would not only have a record of when individuals entered, but when they left. (Privacy commissioner Jennifer) Stoddart noted in her submission that a joint system would involve sharing Canadians’ personal information with the U.S.” The Toronto Star also specifies, “(Canadians are skeptical about handing) over things like flight passenger lists and other personal information (in order to secure) a more fluid border. …’Individual Canadians voiced concerns about enhanced sharing of traveler and travel information,’ said the report on the proposed perimeter security deal. …The NEXUS program, in which individuals submit their personal information and travel history to Canadian and American border authorities for quicker movement across the border, (could be expanded). But there was greater concern surrounding a proposed ‘Integrated Entry-Exit System’ that would track the arrival of a passenger in Canada through to that individual’s departure from a U.S. port. At present, there is no method to record when visitors leave Canada and it is felt this would help enforce expired visas and police those who have overstayed their visit. The airlines object to this, saying that it would impose new costs and procedures on them, while Canada’s privacy commissioner says it would set a dangerous precedent in the sharing of personal information between governments and should be limited to ‘specific alerts, incidents and look outs’.”

2. REGULATORY HARMONIZATION REPORT: With respect to regulatory harmonization, “Individuals, unlike industry, expressed reservations about increased integration with the U.S., feeling that it could result in ‘the perceived erosion of Canadian sovereignty, rights and public accountability that would accompany heightened regulatory alignment.'”

What kind of ‘regulatory alignment’ are US business groups looking for? In April, Macleans magazine reported that the Beyond the Border consultation in the United States submission have been received from, “Target Corp. …who bemoan conflicting regulations between the US and Canada in areas such as product standards, testing facilities, customs procedures and documentation; …the biotechnology industry association asked that both countries adopt ‘consistent science-based processes that would significantly decrease the time required for authorization of biotech crops and their products’; …several US agricultural groups asked for harmonization of the maximum permissible pesticide residue levels for produce; (and) the US Chamber of Commerce…suggested ‘examining wherever possible what can be done to align health care regulatory frameworks between the US and Canada for medical devices and pharmaceuticals’.”

THE COUNCIL OF CANADIANS: In mid-March, the Council of Canadians issued an action alert encouraging Canadians to respond to the on-line consultation on perimeter security that contributed to the two reports released yesterday. In mid-May, we also voiced our concerns to Beyond the Border representatives about the lack of transparency in the process and on what has been speculated to be part of this agreement – given substantive details on the contents of the agreement being negotiated have not been released. In a media release issued yesterday we said, “The Council of Canadians shares many of the same concerns as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada… These include the inability of Canadian governments to control how U.S. departments will use personal information on travelers and other residents of Canada, the dangers of centralizing biometric information into databases which can be tapped for numerous purposes not strictly related to securing the border, and the effect a common exit-entry program would have on constitutional rights in Canada. …The Council is also concerned about regulatory harmonization discussions with the United States, which the Harper government and Obama administration have tied to the perimeter agreement.” We highlighted that this inadequate consultation cannot be used as a “carte blanche” for the Harper government to proceed with its perimeter security plans.

It has been reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet with US President Barack Obama ‘early this fall’ to advance the perimeter security talks.