Canada Border Services seizes lawyer’s phone, laptop for not sharing passwords

As more people travel with smartphones loaded with personal data, concern is mounting over Canadian border officers’ powers to search those phones — without a warrant.

“The policy’s outrageous,” said Toronto business lawyer, Nick Wright. “I think that it’s a breach of our constitutional rights.”

His thoughts follow a personal experience. After landing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on April 10, he said the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) flagged him for an additional inspection — for no stated reason.

Wright had just returned from a four-month trip to Guatemala and Colombia where he studied Spanish and worked remotely. He took no issue when a border services officer searched his bags, but drew the line when the officer demanded his passwords to also search his phone and laptop.

Wright refused, telling the officer both devices contained confidential information protected by solicitor-client privilege.

He said the officer then confiscated his phone and laptop, and told him the items would be sent to a government lab which would try to crack his passwords and search his files.

According to the CBSA, it has the right to search electronic devices at the border for evidence of customs-related offences — without a warrant — just as it does with luggage. 

If travellers refuse to provide their passwords, officers can seize their devices.

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