340 meters per second

Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

&mdash Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nosy neighbours.

Got a real smorgasbord of privacy/identity stories to talk about today, so let's not waste any time. First, if you don't know what RFID technology is try this article on Wikipedia (your browser will launch a new window).

Canwest News Service reports that the US has set a firm start date for its "tag and release" program: yesterday. Scheduled to run through to next spring, the program is designed to "see if the antennas at the crossings can pick up the signal from the chips. Once that has been determined, border agents hope to begin using the system at their checkpoints to identify travellers."

My flogging arm is worn out and besides, the horse is looking seriously worse for wear. Fortunately, EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center) has tireless arms and a large stable; you can read their relevant brief to the US Department of Homeleand Security here (the bureaucratese is a bit dense, but the salient point can be pulled out with a quick skim).

EPIC echoes my concerns around RFID: namely, that the tags (contrary to DHS' assertions) can be cross-referenced to databases containing personal information and are indiscriminate in their broadcasts. What this means is that although the tags themselves may not contain any personal data, they will contain enough markers that private, personal information (SIN, drivers' license, residence, age, etc.) can be quickly located in other government databases; and that any RFID receiver can liaise with these tags, retriving the information contained therein. DHS may intend these things for use by Immigration and Naturalization Services, but the DEA could access the information, as well as the FBI, state troopers and even local law enforcement. Heck, private security companies and businesses could access the tags as well, if they knew what to look for. The potential for abuse is obvious and should be enough to justify kiboshing this plan.

From the Canwest article:

Foreign travellers and landed immigrants crossing from Canada through select U.S. border checkpoints will have to carry a radio chip that will identify them when they leave the U.S. or return to the country under the same visa, U.S. officials announced yesterday as they kicked off a pilot program to test the new technology.

Embedded into a letter-envelope-sized piece of paper, the chips were introduced Thursday at five land border crossings from Canada and Mexico into the U.S. They will be handed out to all people travelling through those crossings using what is known as a Form I-94 during the nine-month trial period. Form I-94 specifies how long the visitor can remain in the country. It doesn't apply to Canadian citizens.

E-mail me if you'd like to read the rest.

* * *

Jennifer Stoddart, my personal hero of the day, flipped out like a ninja on Jean Lapierre. As Federal Privacy Commissioner, she has the unenviable task of being employed by a government that (apparently) has no interest in listening to what she says. Nevertheless, rather than get discouraged or resigned, she gets pissed. Check out this devastating volley of righteously-indignant rhetoric: "[this list] represents a serious incursion into the rights of travellers in Canada, rights of privacy and rights of freedom of movement." Okay, so it's not exactly sturm und drang--it's still a harsh indictment of a government policy designed more to appease our southern neighbours than to actually make Canadians safer.

In case you haven't been following any of this, the "list" is a 1,000-name 'no-fly' list created by the Canadian government and set to be put into practice next year. Its only saving grace is that it's shorter than the open-ended American list, but that's damning with faint praise: 1,000 names would barely cover the known list of violent terrorists in CSIS' hands at the moment.

This idiotic proposal (again, set to come into practice next year unless enough hell is raised between now and then) is just a distraction. A no-fly list wouldn't have helped Bali, Madrid, Moscow or London. A no-fly list doesn't help our electrical grid, water-filtration systems or schools. A no-fly list is a gross abuse of our civil rights and an indication of how completely clued-out the Transport Ministry is on this issue. Jean Lapierre needs to extract his head from his ass, ditch this ridiculous plan and start getting his shit together; there's actual work to be done.

The CBC's article is here and, in a surprise move obviously intended to lull me into a false sense of complacency, the Gazette editorial page contained this shockingly lucid response. Excerpt:

There's no appeal, no way to find out why you're on the list or who put you on it, and no way to check if it's a mistake. You're stuck. Even allowing security personnel to ransack your luggage and conduct full body searches will change nothing.

Transport Minister Jean Lapierre insists that this little mid-winter nightmare will never happen when Canada introduces its no-fly list next year. He told The Gazette's editorial board yesterday that the list will be short - no more than 1,000 names - and will have "no good guys" on it.

We are not convinced.


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