Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada-U.S. security pact stirs privacy fears

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OTTAWA -- A perimeter security deal with the United States puts the personal information of Canadians at risk because in some cases it allows the U.S. to pass those data to other countries without permission, says the federal privacy watchdog.

A newly published agreement on how information will be handled under the Canada-U.S. security pact means personal details about Canadians could be sent to a country with a poor human rights record, assistant privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier said .

The principle on sharing information -- included in a 12-point Canada-U.S. privacy charter made public Thursday -- falls short of the standard recommended by the federal commission of inquiry that examined the Maher Arar torture case, Bernier said in an interview. "We were hoping for greater control for Canada on the personal information it holds."

Bernier said the principles contain some fundamental building blocks of good privacy practice, including the right to see and verify the personal information governments hold, the right to seek correction or redress, and safeguards to ensure data doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

But she expressed concern that the privacy principles are non-binding.

"Considering that privacy is a fundamental human right, one would expect that a statement of privacy principles would be binding," she said. "So the fact that it's not begs the question of the purpose of the statement."

Bernier worries that all Washington has to do is tell Canada it's passing along the information in such cases.

"Canada could not stop the U.S. from transferring personal information about a Canadian to a country with a questionable human rights record," she said. "We were hoping that, in fact, more than notification, there could be a right of refusal, even."

Canada and the U.S. promised a charter of privacy principles would be part of the deal reached last year to help smooth the passage of travellers and cargo across the border while beefing up continental security.

The most contentious element of the deal could be a plan to exchange entry information collected from all people at the border, which would serve as a record of exit from the other country.

The privacy charter's preamble says greater information-sharing between Canada and the U.S. is vital to protecting security, and that domestic and international laws will apply to management of personal information.

The principles say Canada or the United States may transfer information received from the other to a third country. For instance, the U.S. could send information received from Canada to an overseas capital, but only if American law permitted it and if the transfer accorded with relevant international agreements and arrangements.

Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said the principles provide increased protection for Canadians' privacy. They contain stronger protections than any existing international agreements, and "they state very clearly that Canada is to be notified anytime information is shared," she said.

-- The Canadian Press

ordeals of the four men, said Roch Tasse, national co-ordinator of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 A19

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