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Yesterday, the Canada Border Services Agency released information stating that they have made searches of over 27,000 travellers’ devices between 2017 and 2019. That is the largest number that has been revealed yet. Some MPs have advocated for more privacy protection against these random searches through people’s personal information through things like phones and iPads.
The Border Services Agency has not disclosed the number of cellphones that they have seized. They also would not say which crossings made the most searches.
According to Blacklocks, privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien said, “Those devices contain a lot of sensitive information. So, we should be very concerned.”
The Commissioner found that the CBSA breached the Privacy Act twice in an investigation conducted in 2019.
According to the agency, approximately 60 percent of searches don’t require additional investigation. Staff noted, “Approximately forty percent of device examinations resulted in a customs-related offence.”
A 2017 report by the Commons committee called Protecting Canadian’s Privacy At The U.S. Border noted that Canadians travelling between countries should have more protection from these types of searches. MP’s wrote, “Electronic devices contain very sensitive personal information. The law should therefore recognize this new reality and redress the balance between border protection, national security and the protection of Canadians’ privacy.”
Bob Zimmer, a Conservative MP in B.C. told reporters, “Many Canadians are concerned about protecting their personal information when travelling beyond our borders. That is why we are recommending the government modernize the Customs Act to ensure personal information on electronic devices is protected and should only be examined with reasonable grounds.”
Wayne Long, a Liberal MP for Saint John-Rothesay, N.B., mentioned in committee hearings that he was detained at the border for around 30 minutes while his phone was being searched by agents.
Long noted, “They don’t have to give you entry to the States, but from a Canadians’ viewpoint, how concerned should Canadians be?”
“We cross now with our iPads and laptops and our phones, and in my phone is my banking information and my emails,” Long said. “It’s not just texts and pictures anymore. It’s basically your life history and all your records. On a scale of one to ten, how concerned as Canadians should we be?”
Commissioner Therrien replied that he is “very concerned” and said, “As a matter of principle, it is right to say these devices contain a lot of personal information, very sensitive information, and when the law—including Canadian law—continues to treat the contents of electronic devices as goods, it is just not realistic.”