Introducing the Canada-US Perimeter Security Plan

On April 2, 2012, Canada’s privacy commissioner urged the federal government to take all steps necessary to ensure that Canadian privacy laws and standards were not being compromised, whilst Canada strives to fulfill the Canada-US perimeter security action plan. This article introduces the latest incarnation of the Perimeter Security Plan, and some concerns that have been raised by the federal privacy commissioner of Canada.

What is the Perimeter Security Action Plan?

The Canada-US Perimeter Security Action Plan (known as the Beyond the Border Plan) was announced by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama on December 7, 2011. The Plan outlines a number of initiatives that result in unprecedented cross-border information sharing. This agreement, which centers on trade and perimeter security, has the clear objective on coordinate regulations to cut red tape. The Canadian government estimates that implementation and enforcement of these regulations costs the economy $16 billion each year. Pilot projects for the plan are set to start in April 2012.

While it’s not a formal agreement, the Beyond the Border Plan offers a roadmap for major changes in the two North American countries. The Plan concentrates on four main areas:

  1. Addressing threats at the earliest possible opportunity.
  2. Facilitating trade, economic growth and jobs.
  3. Building on successful cross-border law enforcement programs.
  4. Enhancing cross-border critical and cyber infrastructure.

According to a statement made by Prime Minister Harper, “These agreements represent the most significant step forward in Canada-US cooperation since the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

President Obama explained to reporters that Canada is key to his efforts in developing the US economy. He encouraged Canadians to travel to the US in order to spend money there. He pointed out that the border security plan offers a better balance, by dealing with regulations that don’t need to be duplicated.

While the Canadian government is adamant that Canada would not lose any sovereignty as a result of this agreement, and both countries would continue to have the power to allow people and products into and out of their countries, privacy watchdogs have raised a number of issues that will most certainly not be taken lightly.

Thoughts from the Privacy Commissioner

Federal privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, is seriously concerned with the new plan, particularly as it does nothing to make the federal government more transparent. She says:

“I’m concerned that Canadians don’t understand all the implications of these programs. In the past, informal sharing has led to some real problems in Canada, so we want to make sure that the extent and the amount of information that is shared is subject to formal written agreement.”

Stoddart made an example of the Maher Arar case, in which a Syrian Canadian was detained in the US and set to Syria, where he was then tortured. All this took place because the RCMP passed unverified information to American authorities. This shocking case makes it clear that Canadians require a clear, accessible recourse if they suspect that incorrect information about them is being passed along to American authorities. She commented,

“With shared information on travellers, if there are problems on the US side, it is not really clear how Canadians can really access the American system where formal rights are only given to American citizens and to American residents, and there is no privacy commissioner.”

After a close analysis of the Plan, the Privacy Commissioner’s Office made the following suggestions:

  • Any initiatives under the Plan that collect personal information should also include appropriate redress and remedy mechanism to review files for accuracy, correct inaccuracies and restrict disclosures to other countries.
  • Parliament, provincial privacy commissioners and civil society should be engaged as initiatives under the Plan take shape.
  • Information about Canadians should be stored on Canadian soil whenever possible, or at least be subject to Canadian protection.
  • Any new use of surveillance technologies within Canada (e.g. unmanned aerial vehicles) must be subject to appropriate controls set out in a proper regulatory framework.


This article takes a look at the Beyond the Border Plan, a joint action plan between Canada and the United States which focuses on border security and economic development issues. The US represents Canada’s largest single export market, and vice versa. This Plan has important implications for trade and economic growth as well as cross-border security issues. The article introduces main elements of the Plan, and explores some of the privacy issues inherent in the Plan.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Canada (CIPP/C) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Office of the federal privacy commissioner (I.A.c.i.1.a.)
  • Privacy implications of service delivery models (III.B.f.)

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