VANCOUVER — A British Columbia-based civil rights group is raising fresh concerns about a reality TV show that chronicles the work of Canadian border officers, arguing the federal government’s continued participation in the program violates privacy laws and should be stopped.
The Canadian version of the television franchise “Border Security,” which airs on Global and the National Geographic Channel, generated headlines earlier this year after border officers brought along a film crew as they raided a Vancouver-area construction site and arrested a number of workers suspected of entering the country illegally.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says crews from the show, now filming its second season, have been at airports and border crossings gathering footage of members of the public without their consent.
Written signs posted at filming locations indicate members of the public who do not consent will have their faces altered on the program, but the association’s executive director, Josh Paterson, said the border agency and the production company behind the show are still assuming everyone at a border crossing consents to being filmed.
“Simply being at the border cannot mean that you automatically consent to being filmed or potentially included in CBSA’s reality TV show,” Paterson said Tuesday at the association’s offices in Vancouver.
“This is unacceptable — and, in our view, illegal.”
Specifically, Paterson said the practice appears to violate rules in the Privacy Act that prohibit government agencies from collecting or using information in ways that fall outside their legal mandates — in this case, enforcing border laws.
Paterson’s group is asking anyone who has encountered TV crews while crossing the border to contact the association, which plans to file a complaint with the federal privacy commissioner. It filed a similar complaint in March after “Border Security” crews filmed the construction site raid.
The group is also asking for members of the public to fill out a form on its website indicating they do not want to be filmed. Paterson said the association would pass the names it gathers to the border agency and the production company, Force Four Entertainment, though it wasn’t clear what effect, if any, that would have.
Currently, a sign posted at filming locations indicate travellers crossing the border will not be “identifiable” without their consent, but the signs also suggest film crews need not obtain consent before filming or using that footage on TV. The sign indicates anyone who does not want to be filmed should approach the film crew.
A previous version of the sign, a photograph of which was distributed by the association Tuesday, went further, telling travellers that just by entering a border crossing, they were automatically consenting to being on TV.
“Your entrance into this area will serve as your voluntary agreement to include your appearance, image and likeness on screen,” the sign said.
The production company and the border agency insist crews from “Border Security” have always required consent before broadcasting anyone’s face on television.
Paterson said changing the sign was a “step in the right direction,” but he said members of the public attempting to cross the border shouldn’t have to worry about TV crews lurking nearby, whether their faces are blurred or not.
“CBSA should focus on doing its job, not promoting itself on TV at the expense of privacy rights,” he said.
“When someone is faced with law enforcement — whether it’s in the context of a raid or just in the context of trying to get you and your family across the border with as minimal interference as possible — you’re not really in the best position to be insisting on your rights.”
Officials with the Canada Border Services Agency declined an interview request.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson denied the agency’s participation in “Border Security” violates privacy laws and repeatedly noted faces of members of the public are blurred unless they provide consent.
“The CBSA requires the production company to conceal the identity of any person identifiable in an episode who has not directly consented to use of footage. Further, if an individual does not want to be filmed at all — whether they are identifiable or not — they are able to notify the film crew as such,” wrote agency spokesperson Amitha Carnadin.
“Actions taken by the CBSA are done in conformity with privacy legislation and in accordance with Canadian law.”
The federal government plans to spend $160,000 to participate in the second season of “Border Security” — a figure Carnadin said was made up of staffing costs to ensure “administrative oversight.” The first season, which included half as many episodes, cost less than $60,000, said Carnadin.
Rob Bromley of Force Four Entertainment said in an email that the company’s policy has always been to seek consent before putting anyone’s face on television, otherwise, faces appear blurred. He said the sign that suggested simply entering a border crossing amounted to “voluntary” consent was a standard notice and did not reflect the filming policy.
Bromley said the company’s main concern is whether people consent to have their faces on television — not whether they consent to be filmed in the first place.
“News crews, documentary filmmakers, television and film producers and private citizens regularly film in public without obtaining consent from everyone who may be seen by their cameras,” he wrote.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint in late March related to the construction site raid. The complaint was filed on behalf of Oscar Mata Duran, who was arrested during the raid on March 13.
Bromley said footage from the raid was never broadcast because “it did not fit with the type of stories we tell from the inland enforcement team, which are stories of foreign nationals with significant criminal histories.”
He said “Border Security” crews plan to attend future raids in cases that involve “serious criminals.”