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No, the sky is not falling

No, the sky is not falling 

In December 2011, then Prime Minister Harper and President Obama released the Beyond the Border Action Plan for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. As part of the Action Plan, Canada and the United States committed to establishing a coordinated entry and exit information system that includes sharing information so that the record of a land entry into one country can be used to establish an exit record from the other.

According to the CBSA web site, Phase I began on September 30, 2012 and continued until January 15, 2013. During this phase, “both countries tested their capacity to exchange and reconcile biographic entry information of third-country nationals (non-U.S. or Canadian citizens), permanent residents of Canada who are not U.S. citizens, and lawful permanent residents of the U.S. who are not Canadian citizens having crossed at four land ports of entry in British Columbia/Washington State and Ontario/New York.”

Phase II, which began on June 30, 2013, expanded the program to all common land border ports of entry with the processing capacity to capture traveller passage as an electronic record. During this phase, information was not shared on Canadian or U.S. citizens, Registered Indians, or protected persons.

Phase III was discussed during Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent visit to the U.S. In this upcoming phase, information sharing will be further expanded to all travellers. A CBSA spokesperson explained that the information is “like what appears on page 2 of every passport”, and clarified that “for those travelling by air, no information exchange is necessary between the two countries because each country will independently collect what they need directly from the passenger manifests of the airlines.”

According to the CBSA web site, data exchanged under the Exit/Entry Initiative includes the traveller’s name, date of birth, nationality, gender, document type, document number, document country of issuance, the date and time of entry, as well as the port through which the traveller entered. The Privacy Impact Assessment summary for Phase II, also published on the CBSA web site, puts the whole thing into perspective: The only data to be exchanged that is not already known to the receiving country will be the date of entry, time of entry and the port through which the individual has entered the other country.

Fears that this information will adversely impact Canadians driving to the U.S. are misplaced. In that case, information will flow from the U.S. to Canada. The only practical impact to Canadians is that the Government of Canada will know when they leave the country and therefore how long they have been away. Similarly, the U.S. Government will know how long Canadians remain in the United States. The impact on honest, law abiding citizens will be negligible.

According to the CBSA, “the Entry/Exit Initiative will allow both countries to identify persons who potentially overstay their lawful period of admission; better monitor the departure of persons subject to removal orders; verify that applicants are meeting their residency requirements for continued eligibility in immigration programs; and better manage the border, including making more focused policy decisions.”

From a national security perspective, tracking both entry and exit information makes good sense. Travellers to many countries have passed through passport control upon arrival and departure for decades. Given the number of land border crossing points between Canada and the United States, obtaining exit information through an information sharing agreement is efficient and is far less expensive than other alternatives.

In the past, information sharing has lead to a few very unfortunate situations, and it is easy to understand the recent knee jerk reactions. It is clear that the Government of Canada has learned from past mistakes and is carefully considering privacy implications. The information on CSBA’s web site is representative of transparency and accountability. Appropriate safeguards, including the involvement of the Privacy Commissioner and conducting Privacy Impact Assessments should be comforting to Canadians.

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