#CyberFLASH: New airline passenger vetting could amount to racial profiling: watchdog

CPT500317455_highThe federal border agency’s new system for scrutinizing incoming air passengers could open the door to profiling based on race or other personal factors, warns Canada’s privacy czar.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien is pressing the Canada Border Services Agency to explain the program’s rationale and build in safeguards to protect civil liberties.

Canadian law requires commercial airlines to provide the border agency with specific information about passengers flying to Canada, including name, birthdate, citizenship, seat number and other data.

For years the border agency has used the information to try to zero in on terrorists or other serious international criminals. Travellers are assessed for risk, allowing the agency to single out those with high-risk scores for closer examination at the airport.

The border agency is moving to a system known as scenario-based targeting, already used by the United States, as part of Canada’s commitment to work closely with Washington under a perimeter security pact forged in 2011.

The border agency says the new scheme will be more efficient, effective and accurate, directing the focus to a smaller segment of the travelling population who represent a potential high risk.

The new scenario-based method uses Big Data analytics — extensive number-crunching to identify patterns — to evaluate all data collected from air carriers, says Therrien’s office, which reviewed the border agency’s privacy impact assessment of the project.

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