September 23, 2017 – The federal government privacy commissioner has warned Canadians they should be ‘very concerned’ about phones, tablets and computers being searched by U.S. border security.
Daniel Therrien outlined how officers working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection can demand passwords and search devices under American law.
Given the amount of private, sensitive information often stored on the devices, he told Canada’s House of Commons: “We should be very concerned.”
Statistics show American requests to search the devices of Canadians crossing the border have been on the rise since 2015.
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One example offered was of a border crosser denied entry to the U.S. because his phone revealed he was on heart medication.
Canadian border officers are also allowed to search devices, but only where grounds to do so can be established.
Therrien urged those crossing the border to seriously think about the information stored on their devices.
He said: « My point is, think about what you’re exposing your information to, and limit the amount of information that you bring to the U.S., because it may be required by customs officers. »
Meanwhile, Americans are not getting the message that they cannot bring guns across the Canadian border.
Canadian officials say it is difficult to inform U.S. citizens that guns are not welcome in Canada, while many that do know the law just lie about it anyway.
Six Americans have been charged with bringing guns across the border during summer 2017 in New Brunswick alone.
Quick Facts: The Canada-US Border
- Longest international border in world at 8,891km, 2,475km of which is with Alaska.
- 3 million Canadians travelled to the USA in February 2016, with 2 million moving in the other direction.
- 400,000 people and $2.4 billion in trade cross the border each day.
- Canada and US are second and fourth largest countries in the world by area.
- Canadian provinces and territories on border: Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick.
- US states on border: Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine.
They tend to be otherwise law-abiding people who are just used to being armed. Fines of up to $2,000 have been issued by the Canadian authorities.
Officials say many are unaware guns are not commonplace in Canada. They also do not know they can legally declare their weapon and leave it at the border without facing further action.
Despite travel advisories from the Canadian federal government and clear signage at the border, many U.S. tourists still lie about their weapons.
Elsewhere, Canadian legislation to set up new U.S. border pre-clearance at airports, train stations and ferry ports has been held up over concerns about the powers granted to U.S. agents operating north of the border.
A slew of emails was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office after articles in the national press highlighted the powers U.S. officers would have at their disposal.
Under pressure from Canadian officials, the U.S. Congress passed its own bill eight months ago on the specifics of the new border deal.
But while Canada’s Bill C-23 made it through parliament, it has been held up by the Senate ever since as lawmakers debate how the concerns raised should be addressed.
Pre-clearance allows Canadians to clear U.S. customs and immigration before they travel, preventing hold-ups when crossing the physical border.
The service is already offered at eight Canadian airports, plus the Port of Vancouver and Vancouver’s train station. Two more airports, plus Montreal’s train station are expected to open pre-clearance points in 2017.
According to CBC News, more than 15,000 pages of complaints were received in February, a volume described as ‘unprecedented’ and one which took Public Safety officials completely by surprise.
Central to the complaints were the new powers the bill grants to U.S. border officials based in Canada. These include the right to carry arms and the power to detain and question Canadians at the discretion of the U.S. agent.
Previously, Canadians could simply withdraw their request to enter the U.S. and leave. But Bill C-23 removes that right.
The U.S. version of the bill grants all the same powers to Canadian border agents working on U.S. soil. However, as yet there are no Canadian border pre-clearance centres in the U.S. They are deemed not necessary because of the relatively few Canadian airports receiving travellers, making the screening job much easier.
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