BCCLA launches electronic devices handbook to protect privacy at the border

THE BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) released the online guide “Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook – a Guide to your Rights at the Border” on Wednesday.

The quickly changing legal landscapes at the Canadian border and at U.S. preclearance areas have left many travellers wondering whether they can safely cross the border while protecting the sensitive personal and professional data contained in their electronic devices, say the organizations.

The Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook helps travellers understand what is known about their data privacy rights at these border areas, best practices for securing digital devices and interacting with border officers, and what to do if they’ve been searched.

“As we keep more and more personal information on our smartphones and laptops – from private conversations with friends or colleagues to our health and financial information – it’s important for travelers to be aware of the risks involved with device searches, and the extent to which they can protect themselves at the border,”  said Meghan McDermott, Staff Counsel with BCCLA.   “Although the Canadian Border Services Agency does not publish their operational policies, we’ve carefully reviewed court cases, parliamentary reports and materials released under access to information requests to build a comprehensive picture of what one can expect in terms of electronic device searches at the border.”

The handbook is for every person who crosses the Canadian border and the U.S. border through preclearance areas, but has particularly important implications for marginalized populations and professionals carrying sensitive documents.  All people with personal information on their devices have vested interests in protecting their data from being seized at the border and shared with Canada’s vast network of coordinating departments and national security partners.

“Courts have yet to establish that suspicionless searches of electronic devices are an unreasonable invasion of privacy, which is why we advise travellers to minimize the data that is stored on their devices when crossing the border,” said McDermott. “The handbook provides guidance and practical tips that travelers can follow to mitigate their risk at the border, and to help them seek recourse if their privacy has been invaded or if they think they’ve been the subject of discrimination.”

A Twitter Q& A session with BCCLA staff counsel will follow on August 2 at 12 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. Users can tweet questions to @bccla using #edevice.

Online at www.bccla.org/edevice