All travellers crossing the border between Canada and the United States can expect to have some of their personal information recorded now that a new phase of a border agreement has been implemented.
The program started in 2012, when border agencies for both countries began collecting information on third-country nationals and permanent legal residents at four land border ports between the U.S. and Canada. Over the years, the information gathering slowly ramped up, spreading to every land entry point between the two countries.
Now, the two countries have extended their efforts to gathering certain personal information from full-fledged Canadian and American citizens at the border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency are exchanging “biographic data, travel documents, and other border crossing information collected from individuals traveling between the countries at land border ports of entry,” according to a press release on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website. The biographic data includes information such as full names, dates of birth and gender.
The latest increase in information gathering is happening as a result of the Beyond the Border Action Plan, a border security agreement established in 2011 between President Barack Obama and then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Its goal, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website, is to better identify people who overstay their lawful presence in either country, keep a closer eye on the departures of those who have been booted from either country, and to verify that residency requirements are being met.
Canada’s privacy watchdog has, however, flagged some concerns about the initiative. In an appearance before the House of Commons ethics committee in September 2017, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said that his office has been “pleased with the level of consultation and the improved quality of privacy analysis undertaken by agencies involved with border security.”
“That said, we still have concerns over issues such as retention periods applicable to data collected from travelers and the risk that data collected for border purposes is then used for secondary purposes,” Therrien added.
While the committee appearance took place years ago, the privacy commissioner’s spokesperson Vito Pilieci said Friday that it “still reflects the views of this office.”
In a statement published as a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s press release, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale emphasized the government’s commitment to privacy protections.
“The Government of Canada is determined to keep our border secure while protecting individual rights and freedoms, and has built privacy protections into the core of the Entry/Exit initiative,” the statement said.
Acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan also lauded the agreement in the same release, saying he is “proud of the cooperation between the U.S. and Canada.”
“Ultimately, our commitment to sharing information on travelers moving across our borders helps improve public safety, detect dangerous actors and those who violated their visas, and enforce our rule of law,” McAleenan said in the statement.