1.29.2014

surveillance at the border: outrage fades as we accept the new normal?

The surveillance state continues to grow; news of its magnitude continues to trickle out. Some people shrug, claiming only criminals and terrorists need be concerned, but in these extreme conditions, that attitude looks increasingly ridiculous - or government-sponsored. The rest of us shudder and shake our heads... but what more?

The Canada-US border has become another instrument of the surveillance state. For decades, people have claimed that border agencies had access to all our personal information, including tax and credit status. In the past, that was a myth. Now, what was once paranoid rumour appears to be true.

We, the surveilled, are not consulted on these changes. The changes are not open to public debate. Neither we nor our elected representatives have an opportunity to vote for or against them. They are being instituted by fiat. Those magical words - "national security" - make everything possible.

Some stories.

September 2011 (note date): Canadians with mental illnesses denied U.S. entry, Data entered into national police database accessible to American authorities: WikiLeaks

June 2012: "The United States will be allowed to share information about Canadians with other countries under a sweeping border deal.".

November 2013: Disabled woman denied entry to US based on medical records: The issue is not the US's border policies. The important piece of the story is how the US border had access to a Canadian's health records.

November 2013: Accusations that private health details of Canadians being shared with U.S. border agents sparks probe: NDP provincial health critic France Gelinas has been contacted by three Ontarians who have been denied entry to the US based on their personal health history.
Gelinas said another person she spoke to told her that they had been turned away at the border over a physical ailment that had nothing to do with mental health.

She wouldn’t provide any details to protect the person’s privacy, but Gelinas said she was told that the U.S. agent in that case also mentioned a fairly recent, specific medical episode that happened in an Ontario hospital.

Gelinas said at first she tried to find some explanation for why U.S. authorities might have the information, such as police records. She asked many questions, but nothing seemed to explain how the Department of Homeland Security got the information.

“The amount of their personal information that is spit back at them is astonishing,” she said.

“I have no idea how this could happen, but it did. I believe those people. They have given me physical, tangible proof that this happened.”

A person’s medical history must remain confidential, she said. To hear that specific details of a person’s medical history is being shared with a foreign government is “extremely alarming.”
December 2013: Toronto woman with bipolar disorder refused entry into U.S. for being a ‘flight risk’. This occured about a year earlier. The woman came forward after reading the highly-publicized story in November.

January 2014:
Canadian border officials plan to share personal information obtained under a new Canada-U.S. border data exchange program with other federal departments, the Star has learned.

The program, in which Ottawa and Washington will start sharing their citizens’ travel and biographic data this summer, means anyone from Canada travelling to or from the United States by land can have his or her information passed on to federal departments.

The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed the new practice and said data would be passed on only in accordance with stringent rules.
January 2014: If you need extra evidence of how these practices are not for our own safety:
Canada’s border agency misled the public on its highly touted “most wanted” list by inaccurately portraying some people as war criminals, says Canada’s Privacy Commissioner.

The finding came more than two years after refugee advocates complained that border officials violated the individuals’ privacy rights by posting their mug shots and personal information, including date of birth, on the Internet and social media.

Although the federal privacy watchdog said Canada Border Services Agency’s information disclosure was justified in its attempt to locate those wanted for removal from Canada, it chided officials for the loose use of the term “war criminals” to describe the people on the list. . . . .

Toronto immigration lawyer Angus Grant, who represented the complainant, said the commissioner’s finding vindicated what refugees’ advocates had said all along.

“The list was created for political purposes,” said Grant, calling the most-wanted list the Conservative government’s attempt to “vilify refugees on its own assertion that they were war criminals.”
It's not only health records, and it's not only entry to the US that's at issue.

November 2013, from DeSmog Blog: The Day I Found Out the Canadian Government Was Spying on Me: CSIS and RCMP spying on activists, and sharing that information in classified meetings with - you guessed it - Enbridge. Talk about the petrostate!

October 2013, from The Guardian: Canadian spies met with energy firms, documents reveal:
Government agency that allegedly spied on Brazil had secret meetings with energy companies.

* * * *

We must try to keep these stories alive. Government spying should be an election issue.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Open Media privacy petition




4 comments:

MSEH said...

And, slightly different, but just as appalling... last week I brought a speaker from New York to Fredericton. He was exonerated in 2006, after 16 years of wrongful incarceration. Apparently the database is not updated regularly and/or it sounds as though he is responsible for insuring that his record is expunged internationally. But, neither he nor his lawyers knew this. He was detained in Toronto resulting in missed flight = missed CBC interview = late dinner. He showed them website after website about his talk here, the foundation he founded, etc., but they required his exoneration papers. It was MLK Day in the US. Fortunately his lawyer was in the office anyway and was able to fax them to YYZ before they put him back on a plane to NY. After (finally) clearing Immigration, he was then detained by Customs. They said they knew he was "OK" since Immigration had let him through, but they went through every piece of clothing, every scrap of underwear. Then, they looked at every photo on his camera, every photo on his phone, every photo on his laptop. They said they were looking for child porn. Then they said that if they found even "regular" porn, they'd send him back. Not kidding. Welcome to Canada.

The up side? It has given him yet one more experience with which to illustrate the stickiness of labels, the stigma attached to wrongful conviction, even post-exoneration. We were also able to reschedule the interview and you can be sure that his experience was mentioned. We had a standing room only crown in a room that holds 400. The event that almost wasn't.

laura k said...

Thanks for sharing that, MSEH. I saw some of your FB posts, but not all of them, so I didn't get the full story.

So glad the CBC interview worked out, that's so important.

The stickiness of labels, you ain't kidding. Just "being in the system," as they say - being arrested and arraigned, even if found not guilty and released - can be a lifelong burden and stigma.

Thanks also for the work you do on behalf of the exonerated. Is there a link to the CBC interview?

MSEH said...

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/Local+Shows/Maritimes/ID/2431735297/?page=6

MSEH said...

And, I should have said, "You're welcome."

In your leisure time, check out journeytowardtruth.org. It's slow going - I have hours of video to review - but at least it's in process. :-)