Canadians should not be forced to hand over login information for their social media accounts to American border agents, a member of Justin Trudeau’s government said Friday when asked about a proposal being floated in the United States that could target visa applicants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“We don’t think that Canadians’ privacy should be compromised,” Marc Holland, Canada’s parliamentary secretary to the public safety minister, told reporters in Ottawa on Friday.
“We don’t think that Canadians should be put in a position ever where they are forced to disclose information in a way about their social networks and things of this nature, but we’re very confident that working with the American officials that we’ll be able to ensure that Canadian privacy rights are protected at the same time that we continue to enjoy a strong trading relationship with the United States.”
A spokesman for the public safety minister later told VICE News Canadians wouldn’t be affected by any measure that demands such information, should it ever come into force, although Canadians have already been forced to unlock their phones to border agents.
On Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security secretary John Kelly told Congress the department is considering forcing refugees and visa applicants from seven Muslim-majority countries to disclose login information for Facebook and other social media accounts as part of security screening, NBC reported.
“We want to get on their social media, with passwords – what do you do, what do you say?” said Kelly.
“If they don’t want to cooperate, then you don’t come in.”
As the legal battle continues over Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, there’s little clarity around how it would be enforced. An appeals court on Thursday upheld an earlier court’s decision that temporarily suspended the president’s order to ban refugees temporarily, and to block entry for people from seven Muslim majority countries which are Syria, Iraq, Ian, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
Canadians have also been denied entry in the immigration crackdown, with a Muslim woman from Quebec reporting that last weekend she was interrogated about her religion at the Vermont border, and forced to hand over her phone and unlock it. American border agents ultimately refused her entry. Last month, an Iranian born BBC journalist was detained at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and forced to unlock his phone for border agents, whom he then saw looking through his Twitter account.
The password proposal is among several measures the Trump administration is considering to beef up its vetting in the name of national security.
Kelly justified the proposal by saying that under the current process, officials have little to work with, aside from asking about an individual’s background or looking through their paperwork, which can be difficult for people from “failed states” like Syria and Somalia, where conflict had damaged infrastructure.
“When someone says, ‘I’m from this town and this was my occupation,’ [border officials] essentially have to take the word of the individual. I frankly don’t think that’s enough, certainly President Trump doesn’t think that’s enough. So we’ve got to maybe add some additional layers,” said Kelly.
In an email to VICE News on Saturday, Scott Bardsley, the spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said Kelly’s intentions are clear: “he is thinking about ways to obtain more intelligence on visitors from those specific places because their government does not have much intelligence about them. That challenge does not apply to Canadian visitors.”
The department is also considering demanding financial records, according to Kelly.
“We can follow the money, so to speak,” he said, adding that it could help identify people “who may be on the payroll of terrorist organizations.”
This isn’t the first time the department has considered demanding social media passwords though — the Obama government rejected it in 2015, opting instead to ask visitors coming in under the visa waiver program to disclose their social media handles, but not passwords.
This story has been updated with comments from the spokesman for the minister of public safety.