Since 2001, the Canadian government has undertaken a startling number of new programs and initiatives requiring the collection and sharing of vast amounts of previously-uncollected personal information of Canadians.
There are new travel restrictions, paired with “pre-screening” initiatives, requiring the collection of still more personal information and the sharing of it with the American government and new developments in the use of biometric identifiers, requiring the collection of still more personal information.
All of these have been shown to have rampant inaccuracies in the data resulting in demonstrably arbitrary decision-making.

Passenger Protect Program: The “No-Fly List”

Under the Passenger Protect Program, commonly known as the “No-Fly List”, the Minister of Transport can deny boarding to any person the Minister believes poses an immediate threat to aviation security. The Aeronautics Act contains the legal authority for the program:  the Minister of Transport has authority under that Act to specify an individual who is a threat to aviation security and to require airlines to provide information about the specified individual. To assist with identifying the individuals who should be on the list, Transport Canada created the Passenger Protect Advisory Group, consisting of representatives from Transport Canada, the Department of Justice, CSIS, the RCMP and other relevant government departments as required.

Guidelines adopted by Transport Canada require that a person be added to the list if their actions lead to a determination that, should they be permitted to board an aircraft, the individual may pose an immediate threat to aviation security.

According to the Passenger Protect information published by Transport Canada, the following types of individuals may be found to pose an immediate threat to aviation security:

  1. An individual who is or has been involved in a terrorist group and who, it can reasonably be suspected, will endanger the security of any aircraft or aerodrome or the safety of the public, passengers or crew members;
  2. An individual who has been convicted of one or more serious and life-threatening crimes against aviation security;
  3. An individual who has been convicted of one or more serious and life-threatening offences and who may attack or harm an air carrier, passengers or crew members.

According to the website Travelwatchlist, in the first year of the Passenger Protect Program, Transport Canada reported approximately 100 cases of false-positive matches based on a list that is said to contain between 500 and 3,000 names.

How Does the No-Fly List Work?

The program works like this: the Ministry of Transport prepares a list of names of individuals who are believed to pose an immediate threat if they board an aircraft. All airlines must screen all passengers who appear to be over the age of 12 prior to boarding, by comparing their identification documents with the names on the list.

The list is given to all airlines operating in Canada to be used to screen all passengers at the check-in counter, before they board their flight. When the airline employee at check-in finds that a passenger’s name, date of birth and gender match with someone on the list, the airline is required to immediately inform Transport Canada. (If the name of the individual is a match with someone on the list, the individual will not be able to print a boarding pass off the internet or at a kiosk and will be directed to a check-in counter.)
The Transport Canada officer who receives the call is required to verify the information with the airline and make a decision whether to issue an “emergency direction” that the individual poses an immediate threat to aviation security and should not be allowed to board the flight. (1)

If the Transport Canada officer decides to issue the “emergency direction”, the officer informs the airline that the person is not allowed to board the plane. The officer also notifies the RCMP and local police. The airline then informs the person that the emergency direction has been issued. The airline may follow its own security procedures as well.

When he or she is barred from boarding the flight, the individual is given contact information for Transport Canada’s Office of Reconsideration, which receives applications from people wanting to have their names removed from the list. The government says that the No-Fly List is reviewed and refreshed at least every thirty days.

What are the Privacy Risks of the No-Fly List?

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has reviewed the Passenger Protect Program and has significant concerns about it. She has said that “the Passenger Protect Program involves the secretive use of personal information.” Particular problems include:

  1. The process for putting an individual’s name on the list is secretive and not transparent;
  2. Individuals are not told they are on the list until they try to board a plane;
  3. The process followed at the Office of Reconsideration is not set out in legislation (which is examined by Parliament) but in administrative procedures, which are internal to the organization and can be changed without Parliamentary scrutiny;
  4. There is risk of false positives: situations where an individual is incorrectly on the list or has the same name as another person on the list;
  5. There is a serious risk that the list will be shared by airlines with other airlines, and shared by Transport Canada with other governments;
  6. Canadians do not have a legally enforceable right of appeal;
  7. There is no compensation for out-of-pocket expenses or other damages for being denied boarding on the basis of the list;  and
  8. Individuals have no right to be told whether they are on the list.

According to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Transport Canada has provided her office with no evidence showing that no-fly lists actually make us safer. (2)