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Privacy Commissioner of Canada criticizes CCRA's plans for "Big Brother" database

Ottawa - September 26, 2002 - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, in a letter to the Hon. Elinor Caplan, Minister of National Revenue, today expressed his grave concerns over Canada Customs and Revenue Agency's (CCRA) plans to establish a massive "Big Brother" database on the foreign travel activities of all law-abiding Canadians.

CCRA intends to retain, for six years, the Advance Passenger Information/Passenger Name Record (API/PNR) information on every air traveller entering Canada. Every single Canadian travelling outside Canada will automatically have his or her detailed personal information - such as all the destinations to which the traveller flew, form of payment for the ticket and seat selection - placed in a database. The database will be available for virtually any purpose the government deems appropriate - for income tax purposes, for data matches with other departments, for criminal investigation "fishing expeditions."

"This is an unprecedented intrusion on the privacy rights of Canadians," writes Mr. Radwanski in his letter to Minister Caplan. "It is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time the federal government has set out to build a database on all Canadians using personal information obtained from third parties without their individual consent, for purposes not of providing any service to individuals but rather of having the information available to potentially use against them."

"Very frankly, the government of Canada has no business systematically recording and tracking where all law-abiding Canadians travel, with whom we travel, or how often we travel. And the government of Canada has no business compiling databases of personal information about Canadians solely for the purpose of having this information available to use against us if and when it becomes expedient to do so," writes Mr. Radwanski. "Such behavior violates the key principles of respect for privacy rights and fair information practices, and has no place in a free society."

It is the view of the Privacy Commissioner and his Office that the creation and intended uses of the database lack appropriate Parliamentary authority and are in apparent contravention of the Privacy Act. Furthermore, in a free society, the state cannot build dossiers on the private lives of all its citizens just in case one of them commits a crime. And it is all the more disproportional if this information is also to be available to the state, under section 107 of the Customs Act, for purposes that have nothing to do with Customs.

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The letter to Minister Caplan is attached, in its entirety, and is also available on the Privacy Commissioner's Web site at

For more information, please contact Anne-Marie Hayden, Media Relations, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada at (613) 995-0103.



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