Public employees should delete personal info from phones before entering U.S., says N.L. privacy commissioner

Newfoundland and Labrador's privacy commissioner wants public workers to better protect themselves against potential privacy breaches at the U.S. border.

Donovan Molloy says public employees have duty to protect Canadians' personal information

Donovan Molloy is the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Newfoundland and Labrador. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's privacy commissioner wants public workers to better protect themselves against potential privacy breaches at the U.S. border.

Donovan Molloy's comments come after a warning last week from Canada's privacy commissioner that people should expect to have their phones, laptops and other devices searched by American customs agents.

I caution strongly against obstructing the border officials, because it's likely to get you arrested or worse.- Donovan Molloy

Molloy said he's aware of examples where devices have been seized and Canadians have been denied entry into the United States.

He said while this would be a privacy concern to anyone, he especially emphasises the risk it poses to people who work for public bodies and may have devices that contain the personal information of Canadian citizens.

If you're crossing into the United States, you could have your phone or laptop searched by a border agent. Both Canada's and Newfoundland and Labrador's privacy commissioners have issued warnings about the risks associated with having electronic devices searched. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

"We recommend that they not take those devices with them when they're crossing the U.S. border," he said. "At the end of the day, we have to protect the privacy of the personal information of people who are submitting that information to public bodies."

'Don't lie. Co-operate'

Molloy suggests that employers provide clean devices and laptops for their staff when they're traveling, and to back up any information that was on them by downloading it to a hard drive to be left in Canada.

He also advises those entering the U.S. against refusing to hand over their devices if and when asked by a customs agent, and to not refuse giving them your passwords.

"I caution strongly against obstructing the border officials, because it's likely to get you arrested or worse," he said.

"Don't lie. Co-operate. But at the end of the day realize that if you're demanded to give access to your device and provide your passwords, if you refuse to do it you're likely going to be turned away."

Click here to read the privacy commissioner's full advisory.
 

With files from Mark Quinn