No evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of no-fly lists

[Dec 10, 2008 09:27 PM]

Despite repeated requests by Canada's Privacy Commissioner, Transport Canada has provided "no evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of no-fly lists."

In her 2007-2008 annual report tabled in Parliament on December 4, 2008, Jennifer Stoddart condemns the shortcomings of the Canadian no-fly list program and governments that "appear to believe that the key to national security and public safety is collecting, sorting and analysing mountains of personal data - without demonstrating the effectiveness of doing so."

She warns that so-called good intentions are "pushing us toward a surveillance society."

Ms. Stoddart points out that security experts have suggested that improving physical screening at our airports - including thorough luggage and cargo checks - would be a more realistic and effective way to enhance aviation security.

"Canadians expect the government to take measures to protect them; equally, they expect these measures will respect their rights, including their right to privacy, and also conform to the rule of law. This includes legal standards, such as due process, the right to consult counsel, the right to see evidence held against you and other elements of procedural fairness that underpin our justice system," she states.

Canada's Passenger Protect Program (no-fly list) does not meet those reasonable expectations as it "involves the secretive use of personal information and, despite this significant intrusion on our privacy rights, Canadians have no legally enforceable rights to independent adjudication, compensation for out-of-pocket expenses or other damages, or to appeal. Canadians also have no right to ask whether they are even on the list."

Mrs. Stoddart, along with her provincial and territorial counterparts, sounded the alarm in June 2008 about Canada's Passenger Protect program and the secretive use of personal information to determine who may and may not board aircrafts. They called on the immediate suspension of the program. Canada's Privacy Commissioner continues to believe that the no-fly list program raises profound concerns about privacy and mobility rights, access to information and due process.

Her office conducted a Privacy Impact Assessment of the no-fly list program and was successful in convincing Transport Canada to implement its suggestions for passenger recourse; an audit of the program's effectiveness; confidentiality provisions in memoranda of understanding; and standard operating procedures for RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) to guide their actions when someone is denied boarding.

"However, a recommendation that the personal information of individuals who are denied

boarding not be shared with local police forces was not fully implemented. Similarly, our proposal that the Passenger Protect Program, as well as other watch lists, be referred to a Parliamentary committee for review in an open and transparent forum was rejected."

An audit of the privacy management practices of the Passenger Protect Program is currently under way and the findings are expected to be published in next year's annual report.