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Privacy becoming a concern for Canadians at our Borders

Privacy becoming a concern for Canadians at our Borders

Courtesy of Simon Fraser University

Richard Smith, an SFU professor in the School of Communication, can comment on the case of Alain Philippon--Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec--who is being charged with obstructing border officials by refusing to divulge his Blackberry password to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers. Philippon's refusal to give digital access to his phone fell under section 153.1 (b) of the Customs Act for hindering or preventing border officers from performing their role under the act, which could result in a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum fine of $25,000 and the possibility of one year in jail.

Smith notes that there is no precedent in Canadian law to allow CBSA border officials to demand the password to unlock a smartphone belonging to a Canadian. If this case goes to trial the decision will set a precedent, affecting the privacy of many Canadians crossing the border with a smartphone containing sensitive information.

"I would say that this arrest, and the attention it is gathering, is a wake up call to Canadians that their digital life--which increasingly is their entire life--is subject to widespread inspection by government. The border is just one of those places," says Smith. "At the same time, we will also have to be more aware on a practical level of what we do and don't put onto a device that can be subject to search (and theft)."