5 Jan 2010

Extracts from “The Reality of Privacy and Security in the 21st Century”

Remarks delivered to the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies, October 30, 2009 by Chantal Bernier, Assistant Privacy Commissioner of Canada

… As you may know, I came to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada from the Department of Public Safety, where I had the privilege of serving as Assistant Deputy Minister in the Community Safety and Partnerships Branch.

As such, I have had substantial engagement in a range of security and intelligence files.

My entire presentation is premised on this tenet: Privacy and security are not at odds.

On the contrary: I would put to you that measures to protect privacy must be integral to any initiatives to fight terrorism or other crimes.

Why? Because we live in a free and democratic society where individuals enjoy the right to live, to move around, to communicate and to go about their daily lives, free from unwarranted interference by the state.

And for practical reasons too:

Any effort towards greater security that is strictly tailored to the actual risk – and that therefore minimizes the infringement of privacy or other rights – will be more targeted and more effective.

For example, an investigation that is carried out in accordance with the law, and in a way that respects privacy and other rights, will yield cleaner evidence and a more compelling case for the prosecution.

In other words, all the work that is poured into greater security is more likely to pay off if it is carried out in a strategic, targeted manner. And an essential consideration in that regard is due respect for the right to privacy.

Airport scanners

Another file in which we are deeply involved relates to plans by CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, to install millimetre-wave whole-body imaging scanners at several Canadian airports.

These machines can penetrate clothing to expose concealed objects such as weapons or drugs. Their principal advantage over metal detectors is that they can identify non-metallic objects, such as ceramic weapons or liquid or plastic explosives.

Our Office has examined two Privacy Impact Assessments, or PIAs, prepared by CATSA – first for a pilot test conducted at Kelowna Airport, and more recently for the full program.

As we told CATSA earlier this week in our response to its PIA, we consider this technology to be inherently sensitive as it reveals an outline of the traveller’s body. Many people may perceive it as privacy invasive.

As such, we have worked with CATSA to ensure appropriate privacy safeguards.

One of the key results is that the technology will be used only for secondary purposes, after an individual has already passed through the metal detector. What’s more, the scans will be voluntary, with passengers given the option of going through them, or having a physical pat-down.

And – this is key from a privacy perspective – the images will not be recorded, printed or transmitted. Indeed, they will be deleted as the passenger leaves the scanner.

Four tests

In weighing this and any other government initiative with a potential impact on privacy, our approach is to apply four tests: Necessity, proportionality, effectiveness, and the existence of less-intrusive alternatives.

We ask ourselves: Is the proposed measure really necessary? Have the proponents offered proof of a genuine problem, with no other viable solutions?

Our next criterion is proportionality. Many measures will infringe on privacy; that is just the price we pay for living in a community. Any benefit to the group will generally restrict some liberties of the individual, but the invasion of privacy must be proportionate to the benefit derived.

We also want some assurance of effectiveness. We want to ensure that a measure that infringes on privacy, in the name of the collective good, really meets that specific objective.

As for the fourth test: If a measure is proposed that will affect the privacy of individuals, we want to know that it is justifiable on the grounds that there are no less intrusive alternatives already available.

10 Responses

Tweets that mention Office of the Privacy Commissioner » Blog Archive » Extracts from “The Reality of Privacy and Security in the 21st Century” -- Topsy.com Says:

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Privacy Commission , marcopolis and topsy_top20k, topsy_top20k_en. topsy_top20k_en said: Extracts from “The Reality of Privacy and Security in the 21st Century” http://j.mp/6Ew24d […]

Tony Iomi Says:

I find that there is a contradiction in what was written here and what the media has been saying.

Per PrivCom, you have a choice to pass into these privacy-extraction machines, but in the media they stated, “If you are taken for a second round of screening, there is no choice”.

So who is right?

I know if some airport robo-cop grabbed me and forced me against my will to step into this thing as a “second screening”, I don’t think the outcome would play out too well (mostly for me i guess).

Per Canoe:

“The government decided not to purchase genital blurring technologies because it defeats the purpose, a CATSA spokesman said.

The plan right now is to deploy the machines as a mandatory secondary alternative for all U.S. bound passengers, Transport Canada spokesman Patrick Charette said. ”

Now this is another question. Did I not see the privacy commission say a couple of months ago that there is a blurring technology (hopefully better than googles faux blurring technology)?

Here they clearly state no blurring.

Also, over the holidays, the rhetoric heated up to anyone crossing US air-space (even though not landing in the US) will have their names listed and given to their homeland security.

I don’t think PrivCom address this issue yet, that I know of. Whats happening with that?

What if I go to Cuba, like I do every year? Now I have to be on some US homeland security watch list with no choice in the matter? Don’t think I like this either, at all. I don’t want my info given to some yahoo cowboy gov who can have planes forced down to remove someone innocent (and once again sent off to Syria for some good old genital torture, like what already happened to Maher Arar at the hands of the Americans).

The whole things appears to contradict what PrivCom has stated to date, and it has me worried.


Arthur Entlich Says:

I am very disappointed in the Privacy Commissioner’s response regarding the full-body airport scanners, on many levels.

Firstly, this matter should not have been considered until the Parliament was brought back into session (now in March, due to proroguing) so proper discussion, debate and “sober second thought” was allowed to occur. The Privacy Commissioner should have remained completely neutral on this issue until such time as the proper democratic process and legislation was written. Secondly, I have seen no statistics indicating how effective these scans are in detecting the types of materials that other systems do not already effectively disclose. In fact, quite the opposite, what I have read indicates these machines are poor with low density materials, plastics and liquids, and also trigger false positives, requiring pat downs or more indignities. Thirdly, the issue of what other better technologies might exist was not looked into; apparently scanners exist which use different technologies which do not reveal the body as something recognizable, nor were the many other viewing options which are available for these machines considered, such as ones which do not show the full body to the operator, but only areas of concern, or which use software which display stick figures from the much more revealing outline.

Further, is the Privacy Commission aware that Michael Chertoff, ex- US homeland security head, and major proponent of this technology, now owns a company called the Chertoff Group which has as one of its clients RapidScan Systems, one of two companies in North America approved by the US to sell these products. This seems a real conflict of interest.

These scanner will likely just cause those who wish to bring explosives, guns and other destructive materials, to use different methods to get them aboard, such as using friends who are staff members, or using body cavities or surgical methods to smuggle these goods into the plane via their bodies. Keep in mind terrorists expect to lose their lives during these attacks, so risky methods aren’t much of an issue. Drug smugglers do this as well.

And finally, I am less concerned about the issue of my personal privacy, or the possibility of the scan ending up in the wrong hands or being misused than I am with the psychological significance of any act that degrades, dehumanizes or otherwise makes one feel they are losing a fundamental right or freedom. These are the things that erode people’s sense of self-respect and self-worth and become the thin edge of the wedge to other indignities using the same flag waving and fear-mongering which has allowed us to give up so many of our fundamental rights and privileges. What’s next, cavity searches for the sake of “security”, or perhaps full body scanners at mall exits to reduce the losses due to theft?

We originally allowed very restricted use of security cameras in critical environments, but now no one thinks twice about seeing security cameras in nearly every store, and even being used within homes to record family members. We need to be extra vigilant when our human self-worth and respect is being challenged not to be so quick to accept the consequences under the guise of security.

Paul Lewis Says:

See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/are-planned-airport-scanners-just-a-scam-1856175.html

Note the reference as well to the type of scanners that overlay suspicious areas on an “avatar” like image – the Qinetiq scanners in this article – these would seem to be a “Privacy Enhancing Technology” that could alleviate many concerns with imaging – what type is Canada purchasing?

Toni Iomi Says:

In the media today:

Impact of imaging scanners on privacy needs scrutiny
By Jennifer Stoddart

I am seeing too much flip-flopping between what the Privacy Commissioner is saying, Chantal Bernier is saying and what CATSA is saying in the media over the past couple of weeks.

Why not post a new up-to-date blog? Maybe one where Ms. Chantal Berniers comments in the media (and else where) and Ms. Jennifer Stoddarts comments don’t conflict.

Both are saying different things on different areas of this. Especially when it comes to what they told the media about children and scanners (google it). Two different things from the same office.

Colin McKay Says:

Tony, Paul: thank you for your comments.

There are more details in our response to CATSA’s Privacy Impact Assesment, now posted on our site: http://www.priv.gc.ca/pia-efvp/let_20100108_e.cfm

I’m afraid I don’t have the detail on which scanner CATSA is putting in place, but we have encouraged them to regularly review the technology and their need for it.

bbob Says:

Chantal Bernier says …”leaves an outline of the travellers body”……RIGHT !! ! U.S.Office of Transport Security manager, Cheryl Johnson says”it’s possible to see genitals and breasts while they’re going through the machine”. London Guardian journalist,Helen Carter writes that the scanners produce an image which makes “genitals eerily visible”.Queens University expert on privacy and surveillance,David Wood said the body scanners” will not make air travel safer and will simply subject ordinary Canadians to more and more intrusive government scrutiny.See real agenda via these 2 links to Christmas bomber on this excellent Canadian website:


Sandra Robinson Says:

I have been very disappointed by the OPC with regard to their position on body scanners. We have been assured under liberal democracy that the individual is inviolate; that we ought not to be subjected to invasive government scrutiny without certain protections to curtail abuses. What sensitivity training will operators receive?
With regard to the handling of digital images, those of us with a background in computing and digital imaging will be skeptical of the suggestion that the images cannot be saved, re-directed, or transmitted. Or that, as with much surveillance technology, the systems will expand and likely require increased resolution to satisfy new security requirements.
Thanks. I love this blog!

bht Says:

Thank you to Toni Iomi for the post directing us to Commissioner Stoddart ‘s article in the Vancouver Sun. It is reassuring that the OPC will continue to monitor the roll-out of scanners across Canada.

I feel that this technology will require some careful watching. Neither the government nor CATSA have demonstrated that this technology has successfully passed the `four tests’ criteria as laid out above. Indeed it seems just as our government is embracing the security devices, experts in privacy concerns are questioning the validity and effectiveness of this latest infringement on the traveling public’s dignity.

Canadian Privacy Law Blog carries the colourful comments of the Alberta Privacy Commissioner
(www.privacylawyer.ca/blog/2010/01/alberta-privacy-commissioner-has-some.html). As Commissioner Stoddard states in her writing, the EU has announced that they are engaging in studies to determine whether the devices “are effective, do not harm health, and do not violate privacy.” (See the Electronic Privacy Information Center http://epic.org/2010/01/european-union-rejects-us-dema.html). And while the American congress is holding hearings on the implementation of scanners across the US, American privacy experts continue to explore the issue (http://epic.org/2010/01/experts-to-speak-at-national-p.html).

Unfortunately, our government was unwilling to gather considered opinion before proceeding.

Tony Iomi Says:


Old topic, new news (well not so new).

Powerless privacy watchdog ‘concerned’ about new U.S. airline security rules

Back in January when I posted here i was pretty shy and embarrassed. Now I’m not after reading the above link in the Montreal Gazette.

Also, that story completely skirts the issue of Canadians traveling to Cuba. A country on the American terrorist list.

So what now?

What happens now if I bring my family to Cuba, with my elementary aged daughters who have dual-citizenship (Can-US), to an American named terrorist country?

How does this now affect my daughters if they decide to live in the US later on in life? Obviously the Americans will see that my daughters have American citizenship.

Do I believe they will toss the data in 7 days? Lets be real.

Per the Montreal Gazette:
Bernier said the collection of personal information on Canadian travellers by U.S. authorities “is not without risk,””

So… Tell me the risks. I want to know. Or do I really have to file a complaint and be embarrassed again? Or read further conflicting stories from the top person there and Ms. Bernier as I did back in January?

…I’m starting not to be as shy I think, especially when my kids are a target.

Leave a Reply

If you wish to leave a reply, you will be asked to provide your name and e-mail address. Your e-mail address is required for the purposes of limiting spam and contacting you should we have questions about your comment.

To learn more about why this information is collected and how it will be used, please read our Blog Comment Policy.