Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, writes:
The tragedy of Sept. 11 shook our sense of collective security to its core. With that, security measures were tightened, constricting the movement of travellers and trade across the Canada-U.S. border.
As its decade anniversary approaches, discussions are underway on a Canada-U.S. perimeter agreement to ensure security and ease trade.
It remains to be seen how any plan to achieve these goals will incorporate respect for privacy. Given nearly two-thirds of Canadians identify privacy protection as one of the next decade’s most important issues, this question is important.
There’s no denying that the last decade has seen security initiatives resulting in an unprecedented amount of travellers’ personal information being shared to cross the border.
A decade ago, we needed to show customs agents a birth certificate and photo ID. Today, our passports are scanned, our image is captured by surveillance cameras; we are checked against watch lists and police records; our laptop or smart-phone may be searched; and the agent may even Google us to see what pops up.
Understandably, due to the tragedy of 10 years ago, governments have sought stronger security. But, as the pursuit of greater security continues, it doesn’t have to come at privacy’s expense.
At the same time, privacy is not an unconditional entitlement and there may be cases when its protections must give way to meet a greater good.
However, anytime we’re considering adopting a security measure which lessens privacy, we should ask:
• Is it absolutely necessary to achieve the desired end?
• Is it proportionate to the perceived threat?
• Will it be effective in addressing it?; and
• Is there a less invasive alternative that could achieve the same outcome?
And just as stronger security needn’t weaken privacy, any agreement Canada enters into should neither reduce Canadians’ privacy rights, nor curtail Canada’s control over the protection of its citizens’ personal information.