September 05, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Security measures 

Two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are we facing another assault?

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Solicitor General Wayne Easter maintained, in an interview with CBC Radio last week, that "It’s not who you are, it’s what you do" that triggers arrests like those in Project Thread. Easter also stressed that authorities have to find "a balance" between national security and individual rights and freedoms.

But as titillating as Project Thread may be, it’s not just terrorists and alleged terrorists who are affected by security measures in the post 9/11 world. Dixon of the BCCLA wrote to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien last February about "a torrent of measures from your government undercutting the privacy rights of Canadians."

"Some of these laws are being justified on the basis that they are necessary for the war on terrorism, or so we are told," Dixon wrote. "Other measures are supposedly necessary to fight the war on organized crime, or the war on drugs or the war on child pornography. What is actually being waged is a war on privacy and the rights of Canadians to have a life free from constant scrutiny by their government or anyone else."

Through pressure from groups like the BCCLA and the office of former privacy commissioner George Radwanski, one of the most insidious proposals – and one that directly affected tourism – was substantially revamped earlier this year. The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency had proposed that data on airline passengers – both Canadian and foreign – be collected, maintained for six years and shared with all government ministries and agencies. It was proposed that more than 30 data elements be collected, including where and with whom people were travelling, method of payment for tickets, contact addresses and telephone numbers, and even dietary and health related requirements communicated to the airlines.

Although the Chrétien government originally stated that this "Big Brother" database would monitor only air travellers, information obtained by the BCCLA and others under the Access to Information Act revealed that the government intended to extend the database to travellers arriving by ship, train and bus as well.

In April, under mounting pressure from a number of groups, Revenue Minister Elinor Caplan announced the database would be restricted and much more tightly controlled.

After Caplan announced the revisions former privacy commissioner Radwanski released a statement that said the changes "very substantially address the concerns by myself and others.

"They effectively eliminate the use of this information for fishing expeditions such as identifying everyone who has travelled to a particular country a certain number of times, or routinely accessing travel profiles of individuals for tax review purposes. They eliminate meal and health information outright. And they very significantly limit the use and sharing of personal information about travel activities."

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