New Guide for Digital Privacy Rights at the Border

By Meghan McDermott, Staff Counsel (Policy), BC Civil Liberties Association

Today, the BCCLA is re-launching an online guide about privacy rights related to electronic devices – such as laptops, cellphones, and tablets – at the border. It’s aimed at people crossing the border into Canada or departing for the U.S. through preclearance areas in Canada. The guide comes in both a short and a long version and outlines the current law and policy related to device searches, best practices for travellers to protect their privacy, and what to do if you’ve had your device searched at the border.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies at the border, but the courts have found that the government’s interest in keeping dangerous goods and undesirable people out of the country gives the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) more power to search people and their possessions than police have in other settings.

The CBSA’s broad powers to search people and goods extends to the content on digital devices, such as your files, photos, and videos. These files are “goods” under the Customs Act, and border officers can search goods coming into Canada without a warrant – even if they have no reason to suspect that the goods are or contain contraband. Non-citizens seeking to enter Canada, including asylum seekers, may be subject to searches to verify identity and/or admissibility.

CBSA officers conduct initial searches of the contents of a device by browsing images, videos, and files. This is meant to be a cursory look to determine that they do not contain contraband – such as child pornography or hate literature – or evidence of a crime. Initial searches can be random or targeted. Information found during an initial search may be used to justify a more detailed examination, which may include copying the contents of the device.

CBSA officers can only look at content that is already on your device. They should put the device in airplane mode and only look at local content (this includes emails and text messages that are marked “read”). If the CBSA wants to search information only accessible with internet access (such as data in the cloud), they need a warrant from a judge.

If you are asked and you choose not to disclose your password, you risk increasing the CBSA’s suspicion about the contents of your device, denial of entry if you are not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, detention or seizure of the device for more detailed inspection by forensic specialists (which could take months), or arrest.

Here are some tips on how to protect your privacy at the Canadian border and in US preclearance zones:

  • Leave your devices at home
  • Make a backup of your data before you cross the border and leave it home. This will be important if your device is detained or seized, but it also gives you the option of deleting unnecessary data from your device before you cross.
  • Securely delete data you do not need to travel with.
  • Require a password to log on or access your device.
  • Create a strong password, for example by using several random words if possible.
  • Turn off your computer before crossing the border, because security experts have ways of accessing your computer’s memory if it is on. This also ensures your device is locked if it is turned on for a search.
  • Use two-factor authentication, in the event that the border officer seizes one device but not the other.
  • Use Full-Disk Encryption and require a strong passphrase to access it.
  • If you do not opt to use Full-Disk Encryption, you can encrypt specific critical documents or files.

To read the full handbook, visit https://bccla.org/edevice.

You can also find it on Clicklaw.

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2018 Bi-Monthly Update Series: July/August

To keep you informed, here are some highlights of changes and updates made to Clicklaw in July and August:

Jan-Feb | Mar-Apr | May-Jun | Jul-Aug | Sep-Oct | Nov-Dec


Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook: A Guide to Your Rights at the Border
by BC Civil Liberties Association

This handbook is meant to help you make sense of the current state of play with respect to electronic searches at the Canadian border and at US preclearance zones in Canada, and to provide tools to protect your privacy when traveling with electronic devices.

Online Divorce Assistant Application
by BC Ministry of Attorney General

This online app helps people complete documentation for joint-filing divorces in the Supreme Court of BC in cases without children. Joint-filed divorces are where both applicants agree on all family law issues relevant to their situation, such as spousal support and the division of family property.

The Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch (CBA BC)

Many Dial-A-Law scripts have been recently reviewed. For a complete list of these resources, see their listings here (sorted by “last reviewed date”). Some of the updated scripts are:

Traffic Court Guide: Guide to Disputing a Ticket
by the Provincial Court of BC

This guide deals with provincial violation tickets – for offences under BC laws, including traffic offences under the Motor Vehicle Act and regulations, and offences under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act.

Ready to Rent BC

Elder Law Glossary
by Seniors First BC

Elder law and services for seniors are full of unique terms, phrases, and acronyms. We provide this glossary to help you look up this sometimes confusing terminology.

West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL)

  • Back to top Infographic: Marine Protected Areas – Human activities like fishing, shipping and oil exploration increasingly put pressure on our oceans and marine life. This infographic highlights the benefits of Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) in Canada. Legal protections in MPAs can help save our seas.
  • Infographic: Stronger Marine Protected Areas – This infographic explains why Canada’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) need updated and stronger legal protections. We need strong laws to help save our seas.
  • Infographic: Oil and Marine Protection Don’t Mix – Along the Atlantic coast, the ocean does not have consistent protection from oil and gas development. Oil and gas is even permitted within the boundaries of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This infographic shows the inconsistent regulation of oil and gas across Canada’s coasts and MPAs.
  • Guardian Watchmen: Upholding Indigenous Laws to Protect Land and Sea – For thousands of years, the Indigenous peoples of BC have protected and managed the lands and waters. Recently, through the creation of ‘Guardian Watchmen’ programs, nations have continued to uphold their governance responsibilities. Guardian Watchmen follow, enforce, and uphold traditions.
  • A Legal Toolbox to Defend BC from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline & Tankers Project – This brief highlights the tools BC has to stand up to Kinder Morgan.
  • Infographic: Protecting BC’s Coast – This infographic outlines the need for two policy decisions, banning oil tanker traffic on BC’s North Coast and implementing a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on BC’s North Coast, as essential pieces of protection for BC’s rich natural resources.

The Internet of Things
by Get Cyber Safe

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to physical devices (smart/connected devices) that connect to each other via the internet. This website helps you understand how to protect your privacy and security if you are using them at home. It also has a section for small/medium business owners.

Reviewed & updated Common Questions

With help from Seniors First BC, we have reviewed and updated the following questions:

Common Questions help narrow down the resources people should start with. Do you get asked the same questions over and over again by your clients? Send your suggestions to editor[@]clicklaw.bc.ca

Stay informed:

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