Appearance before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) on Bill C-21 An Act to Amend the Customs Act (entry-exit)

October 17, 2017
Ottawa, Ontario

Opening Statement by Daniel Therrien
Privacy Commissioner of Canada

(Check against delivery)


Introduction

Thank you Chair and members of the Committee for the invitation to address the privacy issues related to Bill C-21 and the wider question of how the Canada-US entry-exit system operates.

The Beyond the Border Action Plan committed both Canada and the U.S. to the establishment of coordinated entry and exit systems for all travellers crossing the land border, and for Canada to establish an exit system similar to the U.S. in the air mode.

My Office has held constructive and ongoing consultations with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Public Safety Canada and other various federal departments implicated in the various phases of the Entry-Exit initiative.

Since 2013, the CBSA has been collecting biographical data and travel history on non-Canadians and permanent residents principally for the purpose of immigration enforcement and border integrity.

The purpose of the Bill before you is to provide lawful authority for the collection of exit information on Canadian citizens as they leave Canada, which will allow the final phases of this initiative to be realized.

The government has indicated that at full implementation, the Entry-Exit data will help Canadian officials to better manage our border, combat cross-border crime – including child abductions and human trafficking, respond to national security threats, ensure the integrity of our immigration system, and reduce fraud and abuse of certain federal programs with residency requirements, such as Employment Insurance or Old Age Security benefits .

Information to be collected and shared

Collection of information in the land mode between Canada and the United States at a customs office is based on an automatic exchange between both countries. The record of entry into one country is considered a record of exit from the other. In the air mode, Canada will establish a system similar to the U.S. under which airlines will be required to submit passenger manifest information to the CBSA for all outbound international flights.

As provided under the bill, exit information will include:

  1. the surname and first name, the date of birth, the citizenship or nationality and the sex of the person;
  2. the type of travel document that identifies the person, the name of the country or organization that issued the travel document and the travel document number; and
  3. the date, time and place of the person’s departure from Canada and, if the person arrives in the United States, the date, time and place of their arrival.

Privacy considerations

Throughout the earlier phases of this initiative, my Office has consistently called on the federal government to be transparent about how it uses personal information collected from travellers, and to ensure that the collection and use of this information is justified from a privacy perspective.

Based on our discussions with the institutions involved and the information provided to us so far, I am generally convinced that there are important public policy objectives that this initiative is trying to address and that the personal information in question is not particularly sensitive.

That being said, there is a vast range of retention schedules being proposed across the various institutions that intend to use the information. In some cases, the information will be purged immediately where it does not meet a certain threshold. I understand this to be the case with EI for example, the biographical exit data will be shared with Employment and Social Development Canada, but will be immediately purged in instances where there is no match. However, in other cases the data could be subject to very lengthy retention periods depending on the institution receiving the information and what they are using it for. It has not always been clear to us what the rationales are behind these varying periods.

While we accept that collection and sharing is necessary to achieve specific public interest objectives, once they are achieved the information should be destroyed. I intend to carefully review retention schedules, and will request that clear justifications be provided.

I am keenly aware that this type of initiative presents challenges for individuals to fully understand who has their personal information, for how long, and for what purpose. So I urge the Government of Canada to remain open and transparent, to limit the use of this information to that which is necessary, and to ensure that information-sharing agreements are in place, that privacy impact assessments (PIAs) are conducted, and that retention periods are minimized to the greatest extent possible.

All institutions have committed to providing my Office with PIAs 120 days in advance of implementation. We look forward to seeing more complete details of program-specific uses of the data, safeguards, and the rationales for retention periods proposed. I also ask that we be consulted on the privacy safeguards to be included in the information sharing agreements, at the earliest possible opportunity.

Conclusion

Since 2013, twenty million exit records have been generated and exchanges between the US and Canada now take place in “near real time”.

The underlying purposes for this exchange are reasonable, but means to ensure that information collection, sharing and retention are privacy sensitive is important. That is why we would expect to be consulted on a timely basis regarding the PIAs and information-sharing agreements.

Thank you for inviting me to provide this Committee with comment – and I look forward to your questions.

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