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Editorial: Borderline privacy

By TimesColonist.com
Published on May 30, 2013

Travellers don’t cross the border with the intent to appear on television. It shouldn’t be forced on them, and another complication at the border is the last thing anyone needs.

With the help of the Canada Border Services Agency, the TV reality show Border Security is filming its second season. Signs at border crossings inform the public they may be filmed as they cross the border, but if they do not give consent to be on TV, their faces will be altered so they can’t be identified.

The onus falls on those who don’t want to be filmed at all to inform TV crews.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says an earlier version of the sign warned that anyone crossing the border was automatically giving consent to be filmed and to be on TV, unless they indicated otherwise. Wiser heads apparently prevailed.

The TV show offers a behind-the-scenes look at how CBSA officers perform their jobs, and there’s nothing wrong with disseminating more information on how our laws are enforced and tax dollars are spent. Operations at the border are legitimate fodder for news coverage.

But news coverage is largely dictated by events and issues, and its aim is to inform. A reality TV show’s priority is to entertain, and its success depends on capturing the dramatic and the unusual. To do that, it often must exploit people in moments of stress.

People should have a say about being filmed, whether their faces are altered or not. Crossing the border involves a certain amount of discomfort, especially if an officer senses a need to ask more than the usual questions.

Officials are entitled — even obligated — to ask those questions, but it’s an unnecessary invasion of privacy to have that encounter filmed for its entertainment value.

If a program can glean interesting episodes from what happens at the border, so be it.

But TV crews should exercise common courtesy, and seek permission before filming people who only want to get across the border and be on their way.