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Ottawa, May 1, 2002 - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, today issued the following statement:

Over the past months, I have had collaborative and productive discussions with senior officials of Transport Canada and the Department of National Defence regarding Bill C-42 and its offshoot, Bill C-44. Some of those discussions are reflected in the new Bill C-55, which for the most part strikes a reasonable balance between security and privacy rights.

But I am deeply troubled by the addition of new provisions in section 4.82. These provisions would give the RCMP and CSIS unrestricted access to the personal information of all Canadian air travellers, on flights within Canada as well as on international routes.

This would take away the important privacy right of Canadians to anonymity with regard to the police and other agents of the state as they go about their day-to-day lives.

My specific concerns include the following:

  • In Canada, police forces cannot normally compel businesses to provide personal information about citizens unless they obtain a warrant. Section 4.82 would entitle the national police force and the national security service to demand personal information about all Canadian air travellers without any judicial authorization.
  • In Canada, it is well established that individuals do not have to identify themselves to police unless they are being arrested or unless they are carrying out a licensed activity such as driving. Since Canadian air travellers are required to identify themselves to airlines, and since section 4.82 would give the RCMP unrestricted access to the passenger information obtained by airlines, this would set the extraordinarily privacy-invasive precedent of effectively requiring compulsory self-identification to the police.
  • While some exceptional measures might be justified as necessary to enhance protection against terrorism, section 4.82 goes far beyond anti-terrorism. Empowering the RCMP to obtain and scan passenger lists in search of anyone subject to an outstanding warrant for any offense punishable by imprisonment of five years or more has no apparent connection to the purported anti-terrorism purpose of Bill C-55. It appears, rather, to be a dramatic expansion of privacy-invasive police powers without explanation or justification as to its necessity.
  • If air travellers within Canada can in effect be forced by law to identify themselves to police for scrutiny against lists of wanted suspects, why not train travellers, bus travellers, or anyone renting a car? The precedent set by section 4.82 could open the door, in principle, to practices similar to those that exist in totalitarian societies where police routinely board trains or establish roadblocks to check identification papers in search of anyone of interest to the state.
  • Since the level of identity authentication for air travel within Canada is relatively low, section 4.82 appears to present the risk that significant numbers of entirely law-abiding travellers could be arrested or detained simply because they have names similar to those of individuals sought on a warrant. Conversely, this risk could set the stage for introduction of yet another privacy-invasive new measure: a compulsory national identity card and identity number.
  • Allowing CSIS and the RCMP to retain passenger information in search of suspicious travel patterns could lead to the creation of security files on large numbers of law-abiding Canadians. What appears suspicious to authorities might in reality be entirely innocent. But individuals would have no opportunity to set the record straight, because they would likely be denied access to their files under security exemptions to access rights.

I have stated repeatedly since September 11 that I have no intention, as Privacy Commissioner, of seeking to stand in the way of legitimate and necessary measures to enhance security against terrorism, even if they involve some justifiable limitation of privacy rights.

Accordingly, if section 4.82 were limited to providing the RCMP and CSIS with access to airline passenger information for the sole purpose of checking against databases of known or suspected terrorists, I would raise no privacy objection - provided all such information was immediately destroyed except where a match with the database was found.

It is questionable whether such screening is likely to be an effective anti-terrorism measure in any event. Individuals who commit terrorist acts are not necessarily previously known as terrorists, and known terrorists are unlikely to travel on their own identities. But the degree of privacy invasion that is involved in this type of screening is sufficiently limited that it would not be objectionable from a privacy viewpoint.

Section 4.82 goes far beyond this. Since Bill C-55 is not emergency legislation, I would expect that the Minister of Transport, Mr. Collenette, has carefully considered the obvious concerns that these provisions raise and is in a position to give clear answers.

Because the privacy concerns raised by section 4.82 are of the greatest gravity, it is my duty as Privacy Commissioner to seek either an explanation as to why these concerns are unfounded or amendments to bring the provisions into accordance with the fundamental human right of privacy.

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For more information, contact:

Anne-Marie Hayden
Media Relations
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Tel.: (613) 995-0103

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