This morning, the Montreal Gazette reported that the United States wants access to Canadian data that shows exactly who is flying over their airspace, even if the flight does not land on American soil. Under authority that will be granted to the Minster of Transport with the passing of Bill C-42, Canadian airlines will release the name, date of birth and gender of the all passengers on flights over the United States to U.S. authorities. This move would give the United States Homeland Security personnel final approval over who will be allowed to board an aircraft in Canada should that flight pass merely pass into United States airspace. While this may seem to be a relatively harmless idea, should your name appear on their watch list in error because it is similar to the name of someone actually on the list which is rife with errors, you could be prevented from boarding a flight to Cancun or Europe or you could be subjected to questioning or delay. Muslim Canadians face the greatest risk of having a similar name to someone who is actually on the error prone list. As well, this takes information requests by the United States in the name of security one step further into Canada’s sovereignty.
Bill C-42 changes Canada’s Aeronautics Act; it will allow airlines to communicate passenger information to foreign countries, but more specifically the United States, in compliance with their Secure Flight Program. As it stands now, Canadian airlines are only allowed to give out this information to American authorities should the plane in question actually be landing in the United States. As part of the current ticketing process, Canadian airlines are required to register all passengers 72 hours prior to departure for flights landing in the United States with the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight Program, developed by the Department of Homeland Security. If your name should appear on their watch list, you will most likely not be given a boarding pass for your flight, however, the ultimate decision is in the hands of the Canadian airline.
Here is a screen cap from the TSA website giving an overview of the program for United States citizens:
Since there are quite a number of problems with the accuracy of the security watch list (i.e. you could have the same name as a person that is on the watch list), they have a Travel Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP – who thinks of these acronyms?) that will make travel easier for those who have been misidentified in the past. Here is a screen cap of that part of the TSA website:
Under Part 1 Amendments to the Aeronautics Act of Bill C-42, the following passage is found:
Note that under the new legislation, the information about your reservation "may" be provided to the Minister of Transport and that the Minister "may" disclose that information if it is necessary for transportation security (i.e. to a foreign country). Therein lies the crux of the new legislation.
The United States has assured Canada that they will delete passenger data from their database seven days after the flight, however, it will be extremely difficult for Canadian authorities to ensure that this has taken place. I suspect that privacy will be the last thing American officials will be concerned with; the European Parliament has already determined that the passenger data collected under their agreement with the United States was not sufficiently safeguarded; that the data was retained for too long (3 to 15 years) and that there was no limit to which United States agencies that would be allowed to access the data. Here is epic.org’s take on the story.
It is becoming quite apparent that those terrorists who attacked United States soil on September 11th, 2001 have had a significant impact on Canadian government policy, including the expenditure of $1 billion on security to protect the leaders of the "free" world. Apparently, we have all sacrificed a little bit of our freedom and our privacy over the past 9 years, thanks in no small part to 20 men flying airplanes.
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