Canadians should keep the pressure on when it comes to these cards. Great as it is, this is but temporary victory as international interests press for the adoption of this technology. As it was laid out in the SPP’s June 2005 Report to Leaders, partners are required to “test technology and make recommendations, over the next 12 months, to enhance the use of biometrics in screening travelers destined to North America with a view to developing compatible biometric border and immigration systems.” It’s precisely this international compatibility that has led some commentators to worry that this represents the thin edge of the wedge towards a world ID card. With Canada, the US, Britain, and other countries adopting the technology, and agencies such as Interpol calling for shared facial recognition databases, these fears seem increasingly justified.
Jim Bronskill, Canadian Press
December 1, 2008
Ottawa has quietly dropped plans to let the United States house a database of personal information about Canadians who hold special driver’s licences aimed at better securing the border.
The move follows vocal criticism from federal and provincial privacy commissioners, who warned earlier this year the scheme could open the door to abuse of the sensitive data.
However, the office of federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart is still wary of the plan to share information on so-called enhanced driver’s licences with the United States, and stresses the passport is still the ideal travel document for Canadians.
“All in all, we are pleased to see that they listened to some of our recommendations, but we remain hopeful that they’ll heed to many of our other concerns,” said Anne-Marie Hayden, a spokeswoman for Ms. Stoddart.
As of next June, under Washington’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, all people entering the U.S. must have a passport or other secure documentation confirming citizenship and identity.
British Columbia has launched a pilot project to test the enhanced licences, and Ontario announced this month it would usher them in, along with special photo ID cards for people without a valid driver’s licence.
Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec have also signalled interest.
The new cards contain a radio frequency tag that can be scanned at the border, transmitting a number that identifies the traveller, allowing the border agent to call up the person’s information on a screen.
In February, federal, provincial and territorial privacy ombudsmen issued a joint resolution expressing concern about privacy and security risks of the program, and called for safeguards including assurances the personal information of participating drivers would remain in Canada.
A newly obtained privacy impact assessment, prepared in January by the Canada Border Services Agency, says the plan was to transfer CDs containing the name, gender, birth date, citizenship and photo of enrolled drivers to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service.
Under a memorandum of understanding, CBSA would seek assurances from the U.S. that “appropriate auditing mechanisms” were in place and that the data would be used only for cross-border purposes, says the assessment, released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
But Canadian applicants for the special driver’s licences would also be advised “that their personal information may be disclosed to other organizations for any other purpose as authorized by U.S. law.”
The CBSA, which submitted the assessment to Ms. Stoddart for review, now says the database of personal information will be housed by the border agency in Canada.
The agency is responsible for ensuring the data records are “properly safeguarded,” said CBSA spokeswoman Tracie LeBlanc.
“However, federal, provincial and territorial privacy laws do not apply to information once in custody and control of the U.S. authorities.”
The potential for secondary use of the personal information still concerns Canadian privacy advocates and civil rights watchdogs.
Roch Tasse of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said it will be difficult to tell what the Americans might do with the data.
“What guarantee do we have that the Homeland Security [Department] would not use it for tracking and following people without their knowledge?”
Potential limitations on such uses are covered in the memorandum of understanding between CBSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It has not been made public and is likely to undergo revision.
Ms. Stoddart’s office says the electronic tag in the new cards should be readable only at very close range — not from several metres away as currently contemplated. “This would help to prevent skimming, or surreptitious reading, of the chip.”
Protective sleeves were issued for the B.C. trial, though critics say there is no firm evidence as to how well the shields work.
Mr. Tasse fears the cards will give police and other security agencies an easy means of monitoring people of interest. “They could read all the IDs, basically, on everybody in a bus going to a demonstration.”
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