Canadian Charged After Refusing To Give Up Smartphone Password At Airport

Mobile / Tech

A Quebec man refused to give up his smartphone password to border officials working for the Canada Border Services Agency at Halifax’s Standfield International Airport earlier this week and was subsequently charged with an obstruction offence.

Alain Philippon denied border officials requests for the password to his smartphone during a customs search after landing in Halifax from Puerto Plata. As a result, he was charged under section 153.1 (b) of the Canadian Customs Act for “hindering or preventing border officers from performing their role.” If found guilty, Philippon could face a fine of $1000-$25,000 and a possible jail sentence of one year.

The director of Law and Technology Institute at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, Rob Currie, says that border officials have “wide-ranging powers to search travellers and their belongings.”

“Under the Customs Act, customs officers are allowed to inspect things that you have, that you’re bringing into the country,” he told CBC News. “The term used in the act is ‘goods,’ but that certainly extends to your cellphone, to your tablet, to your computer, pretty much anything you have.”

He goes on to say that the main problem is that the question of whether or not a traveller has to give up passwords to electronic devices hasn’t been decided by Canadian courts.

“This is a question that has not been litigated in Canada, whether they can actually demand you to hand over your password to allow them to unlock the device. [It’s] one thing for them to inspect it, another thing for them to compel you to help them.”

In an email to the CBC, the Canada Border Services Agency stated that

“Officers are trained in examination, investigative and questioning techniques. To divulge our approach may render our techniques ineffective. Officers are trained to look for indicators of deception and use a risk management approach in determining which goods may warrant a closer look.”​

According to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada website,

  • CBSA officers are authorized to conduct searches of individuals entering Canada, including their baggage, parcels or devices such as laptops, BlackBerrys or cellphones. These searches may be conducted without a warrant.
  • In addition, officers may examine devices for photos, files, contacts and other media, in much the same way customs officials have broad powers to open, inspect and seize mailed packages being delivered into Canada.

What it fails to clarify however is what happens if a traveller refuses to unlock their luggage or device. This is definitely an interesting privacy issue for Canadians – and travellers entering Canada – and one that we’ll be watching and following up on.

What do you think about the charges against Philippon? Should you be forced to give up the password to your phone or other devices when asked by law enforcement or border officials? Let us know in the comments below or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

  Source: CBC
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