Once the pandemic began, being able to travel into Canada was a long time coming. In fact, our friends to the north didn’t reopen their doors until August 2021. And ever since, they still have some of the most stringent entry policies in the world, with proof of being fully vaccinated required for any travel by plane, train, etc., with few exceptions.
Canadians, like people from the U.S., enjoy a good amount of privacy. However, the Canadian government is now considering a bill that would give the country stricter entry and exit controls at their borders. In turn, there could potentially be less privacy for those wishing to go through the border. In short, they’re proposing a new law that would allow border agents to search travelers’ phones and other digital devices whenever they judged necessary.
The Bill was introduced to the Senate at the end of March of this year. The Bill, numbered S-7, is a proposal to amend Canada’s current Customs Act and the Preclearance Act, which have both been in effect since 2016. Claiming a need for maintenance of security at the borders, the text of the Bill (you can read it here) goes into detail about how a border agent may soon be able to search one’s personal devices if they deemed it necessary.
The Bill proposes legislative changes that include:
- Establishing a new threshold that must be met before the initiation of a personal digital device examination, which requires reasonable general concern;
- Creating an authority to examine documents on personal digital devices in the Customs Act and the Preclearance Act, 2016. This is required to differentiate these devices from other goods, including commercially imported/exported digital devices; and,
- Requiring a specific purpose that formally limits examinations to regulatory border-related examinations.
This would include border officers being able to, ‘examine, search and detain documents’ if deemed fit, including on border crossings between Canada and the United States. Such documents could include emails, private messages, receipts, photographs and videos stored on personal devices. Officials would also be able to legally make an electronic copy of an incoming traveler’s record or document.
The Government of Canada says, “Conducted sparingly and selectively, these examinations are highly effective for the CBSA to protect the health, safety and security of Canadians. Such examinations are used to screen for and intercept prohibited and harmful goods, such as child pornography and obscenity.”
S-7 is just a Bill right now. Just like in the U.S., that means it’s currently a proposal, not law (yet). However, the Canadian Government says it’s committed to advancing the legislation quickly. it already passed the second reading (when amendments to the Bill could be added) on May 11, which is said to strongly mean, that after further review, it will probably be approved in the not-too-distant future.
Before anyone gets their knickers in a wad, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has had the authority to inspect travelers’ cell phones, computers, cameras and other electronic devices, without a warrant or probable cause, since 2013. They say these searches have resulted in evidence helpful in combating terrorist activity, child pornography, drug smuggling, human smuggling, bulk cash smuggling, human trafficking, export control violations, intellectual property rights violations and visa fraud.
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