Privacy advocates concerned over new Canada-U.S. data-sharing system
The Canadian and American governments will begin compiling a database of residents’ comings and goings from each country this spring – and some critics say the new data-sharing program amounts to a massive-scale invasion of privacy.
The next phase of the Beyond the Border Action Plan will see Canadians’ movement and biographic data tracked and collected by border officials by June 30 of this year.
“What it means is that your movements as a Canadian go into the great database to count the number of days in and out of Canada,” immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland told CTV News. “No one has ever before been able to count those days in government. Now they can.”
Kurland said the government’s intention behind the new policy is to strengthen border security and combat terrorism, as well as crack down on those who take advantage of things like employment insurance and Medicare.
But under the new system, snowbirds who travel south for the winter could be at risk of losing eligibility for Medicare because Canadians must be physically present in their home province for a certain number of days per year to qualify.
According to the Ministry of Health, British Columbians must be physically present for at least six months in a calendar year.
“It converts people into a cat-and-mouse play system where governments will try to find out how many days you’re out,” Kurland said.
But axing people from Medicare could be a boon for governments – and taxpayers – looking to save money any way they can.
“If you’re not eligible for Medicare, why are you getting it? The savings can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” he said.
Josh Paterson, a spokesman for the BC Civil Liberties Association, said the amount of money that could potentially be saved by the program doesn’t justify what his group sees as a violation of Canadians’ privacy rights.
“It’s not clear to us at all how gathering information on the comings and goings of every single Canadian will help to identify particularized security threats,” he said. “That’s the same theory as collecting all of our cell phone data all the time because we’re looking for a few bad apples.”
Paterson pointed to the controversy in the U.S. over the NSA’s recently leaked surveillance program, which intercepts billions of internet messages and phone conversations from around the globe each day, which some judges have deemed unconstitutional.
“It’s really for the government to justify the need for what is potentially a massive-scale invasion of Canadians’ privacy rights, and here we just haven’t seen that justification,” he said.
A summary of the system on the Canadian Border Services Agency's website says the program will also help determine whether third-country nationals and permanent residents are complying with domestic immigration laws.
“This project can help move us closer to meeting this need through mutual collaboration and without expensive new infrastructure or unnecessary processing that would slow down trade and travel between the two countries,” it reads.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's St. John Alexander