Privacy commissioner investigating Canada Border Services Agency over electronic media searches

March 16, 2017
Article Source
National Post

Canada's federal privacy commissioner has launched an investigation into the Canada Border Services Agency's practice of searching the electronic devices of travellers at the Canadian border.

The investigation comes amid mounting concerns over whether CBSA's U.S. counterparts are not just searching travellers' devices, but also downloading their contents for later examination and even cloning and mirroring the devices.

Border agents from both countries operate in a legal grey zone. Canadian courts recognize "reduced expectations of privacy at border points" for people dealing with Canada's border authorities, who are able to search and examine possessions, including devices, without warrants, said Valerie Lawton, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. People must provide their passwords if asked, or risk having the device "held for further inspection."

"It is possible that issues related to retention may be examined during our investigation," Lawton said, saying she couldn't reveal further details about the investigation or the complaint that prompted it. Little is known about when, and how often, CBSA retains data collected from devices, where it's held and for how long.

The CBSA does not collect statistics on electronic device searches, spokeswoman Line Guibert-Wolff said, and data may only be collected for "customs purposes." Information can only be disclosed to other agencies if it meets guidelines in the Customs Act, which states information must relate to criminal proceedings, immigration or national security, among a few other categories. 

Read more: Privacy commissioner investigating Canada Border Services Agency over electronic media searches