Biometric data collection change in budget bill raises privacy concerns

June 3, 2015

By Susanna Mas, CBC News |

The federal government’s move to expand its power to collect biometric information on visitors to Canada is giving rise to privacy concerns and calls for closer scrutiny.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper is defending the budget bill provisions, saying “all privacy and legal standards” will be respected.

The government currently collects a digital photograph and 10 fingerprints to verify the identity of foreign nationals from 29 countries and one territory when they apply to temporarily visit, study or work in Canada.

The changes proposed in the government’s 167-page omnibus budget bill would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow the collection of biometric information from any person who applies to come to Canada.

Once an applicant is accepted, “further” biometric information could be collected “for verification purposes.”

The government expects to collect data from 2.9 million people by 2018-19.

Sonia Lesange, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told CBC News in an email that a digital photo and fingerprints are “the only biometrics data applicants will have to provide.” She said visitors who travel here without visas, such as Americans and Western Europeans, would be exempt from biometric screening.

But such details are not spelled out in the proposed amendments and would be deferred to future regulations — after the budget bill is passed.

During an announcement in Toronto Thursday, Harper said Canada already has access to the biometric data of other countries. Canada’s data, he told reporters, would need to be shared “to some degree” to verify identities and secure the border from “terrorists who wish to enter.”

“We’ll make sure people are who they say they are. Make sure the person who arrives in Canada is the same person who applied for the visa overseas,” he said.

“You can fake your name, you can fake your documents but you cannot fake your fingerprints.”

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