Rights groups rally to support Privacy Commissioner In opposition to ‘big brother’ database on travellers


Vancouver – Public interest groups across Canada are uniting to support the Privacy Commissioner’s fight against government programs that are excessively eroding privacy rights in the name of security. Heading the list of programs opposed is the massive new surveillance database created by the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) to monitor Canadians and other travellers entering Canada.

In a letter sent today to National Revenue Minister Elinor Caplan, seven groups led by the BC Civil Liberties Association and the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), strongly attacked the CCRA database.

“Most disturbing are the statements by the Privacy Commissioner that he received assurances from your officials assuaging his concerns about this legislation, after which the government acted in a contrary fashion,” the groups wrote. “In his letter to you dated September 26, he stated that on the basis of those assurances, he did not seek to appear before either the House or Senate committees studying this bill. The government’s conduct has been contemptuous of the Privacy Commissioner and of his role as ombudsman of the privacy interests of Canadians.”

Although the government originally stated that the database would only monitor air travellers, information obtained under the Access to Information Act has revealed that the government has expanded the database to include travellers arriving by ship, train and bus as well.

“In fact, the entire approach of the government regarding this database has lacked transparency – in Parliament, with the Privacy Commissioner and with the Canadian people,” stated Darrell Evans, executive director of FIPA. “Evidently the government is afraid to reveal that they are eliminating civil liberties that took people in the western democracies hundreds of years to win.

“We demand a full explanation to Canadians of exactly what information the government wants to collect, how long they will keep it, and who it will be shared with,” said Evans. “We also demand that the Privacy Commissioner be given the mandate to conduct an annual audit on the database and issue a public report.”

Canadian federal and provincial privacy laws prohibit public bodies from collecting personal information on the chance that it may become useful at some future time. The traveller database is an indiscriminate, multi-purpose population surveillance program that makes a mockery of these laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which grants individuals the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“In a world where information is power and privacy is under attack, the government has just gone over the line,” said Murray Mollard, executive director of BC Civil Liberties. “This is an unjustified information grab as never seen before. Although Canadians are willing to make sacrifices to fight terrorism, this program takes unfair advantage of Canadians’ goodwill.”

[download the Letter to Minister Caplan]

CONTACTS:

Murray Mollard, BC Civil Liberties Association: 604-687-3013
Darrell Evans, BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association: 604-739-9788
Valerie Steeves, National Privacy Coalition: 613-721-8616
Richard Rosenberg, Electronic Frontier Canada: 604-228-8097
Tom Riley, Commonwealth Centre for e-Governance: 613-236-7844
Philippa Lawson, Public Interest Advocacy Centre: 613-562-4002 (ext 24)
Valerie Price, Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties: 204-947-0213