The Current

Canada's border agent requests smartphone password, debate ensues

How would you answer if a custom's official asked for the password to your smartphone? One Quebec man recently refused to give it up. Now, he has been charged with hindering border officials. And that's opened up a whole host of questions about privacy and security.
You have to open your bags if a customs official asks when you re-enter Canada...But what if they ask for the password to your smartphone? (iStock)

This this past Monday, Alain Philippon, a Quebec man, was stopped by border officials on his way home after vacationing in the Dominican Republic. A Canada Border Services Agency official asked for the password to Philippon's cellphone. But he refused to give it up.

Mr. Philippon ended up being charged, with hindering the agents from performing their duties. And he could now face up to a year in jail, and a $25,000 dollar fine. But he says he's going to fight it. And it should prove to be an interesting — and important — fight to watch. After all, we carry so much of our lives today inside our smart phones... raising the question of how much privacy we should expect, when we carry our smart phones over the border.

Rob Currie is the director of the Law and Technology Institute at the Schulich School of Law, at Dalhousie University. He was in Halifax.

Josh Paterson is Executive Director of B.C. Civil Liberties Association. He was in Vancouver. 

Christian Leuprecht teaches at the Royal Military College and Queen's University. Among other things, he specializes in security and border issues. Christian Leuprecht was in Kiev, Ukraine. 

We did reach out to the Canadian Border Services Agency for an interview, which they declined. They did sent us a statement, which reads, in part, that their agency — quote — "has the responsibility to provide integrated border security and facilitate legitimate trade and travel." And that, "All goods, including electronic devices, must be presented to the CBSA and may be subject to a more in-depth examination."

Would you be comfortable telling a customs official your smart phone password so they could search your phone? Have you done it before? How do you think Smart Phones should be treated at the border?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Sonya Buyting. 


♦ Cellphone searches upon arrest allowed by Canada's top court - CBC News

♦ CBSA can't fix its dramatic problems on its own: civil liberties watchdog - Vancouver Sun

♦ Supreme Court Lets Stand Ruling Bolstering Gadget Privacy at U.S. Border - Wired