A Senate bill that would have allowed Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) agents to examine the contents of traveller’s smartphones, laptops and other devices under the threshold of “reasonable general concern” has been voted down by the national security and defence committee.
Bill S-7 would have amended the Customs Act, lowering the bar of circumstances under which CBSA officials could search personal digital devices.
Senators on the committee passed an amendment suggested by Senator Mobina Jaffer to replace the proposed new threshold with “reasonable grounds to suspect,” which would still make searching travellers’ electronic devices simpler than it is today, according to Blacklock’s Reporter. Though not as permissive as the Minister of Public Safety’s proposed standard.
“We did not have one witness except the minister and the officials say that the new standard was a good idea,” said Jaffer Monday.
Senator Marc Gold, the government’s representative in the Senate, was also against the proposal. According to Gold, the law does not reduce the bar, but rather “creating a legal standard where one never existed before.” he said to National Post
Law experts previously told the committee that the new “reasonable general concern” threshold was unknown in Canadian law. Senators were informed by Lex Gill, a research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, that the new norm would be a “fishing expedition.”
The new bar would have been “very low, and legally novel” according to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), and would not effectively safeguard travellers’ privacy from border authorities.
While the committee completes its work, the bill will return to the Senate for consideration of the committee’s conclusions that the new “reasonable general concern” criteria is too permissive. The bill will then be sent to the House of Commons for consideration.