Cross Border Shoppers: Watch Out!

By Author: Admin | November 29, 2009

For Canadians who enjoy the variety and low prices of US outlet malls (conveniently located near the Canadian border), closer information sharing will take place between the US and Canadian immigration authorities, as per the following US government press release entitled, “Secretary Napolitano and Minister Van Loan Announce Initiatives to Combat Common Threats and Expedite Travel and Trade”, at the following link:

http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/pr_1259080420061.shtm

The official impetus for the increased information sharing is “national and economic security”.  ‘National security’ is an oblique reference to terrorists, but ‘economic security’ implies that both Canada’s and the USA’s economic interests are in sync.  This is not always the case.  It would be more accurate to say that Canada needs the USA as its main trading partner, so we will share whatever information they will want from us.

It is worth mentioning that there has already been the sharing of FBI information by the Canadian border authorities, the CBSA (which is why I have had many US-citizen clients have their US-based DUIs discovered when trying to enter Canada).   Similarly, when I, my wife and children travelled over the US border to shop three days in a row during the Christmas holidays, the US border guard knew it was our third day of entry (likely based on my license plate), and aggressively confronted me about this on my third day of entry. I said that we needed to buy our children’s spring time clothes, and was let through.

If your thing is to buy stuff for you or your immediate family (Polish sausage, Ugg boots, etc.), you will probably not be harassed on the US side.  However, you may be dinged for the appropriate duty on the Canadian side.

The increased use of biometric information was confirmed as follows: “Secretary Napolitano announced that the United States will join a biometric data sharing initiative involving Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and, eventually, New Zealand – an initiative designed to strengthen the integrity of immigration systems and the security of each country while protecting privacy and civil rights.”   It is interesting that these countries are all predominantly English speaking.  All of them have an immigration program, and comprise the most popular destinations for both legal and illegal immigration.

The use of biometric information (likely to be focused on fingerprint and face-recognition technology) will reduce the number of illegal workers who try to pass off other people’s passports as their own, among other snakehead tricks.  Since no technology if fool proof, the risk of biometric technology would have to be tempered by some appeal process in the case of mistaken identity and/or wrongful prosecution.  Even prior to this, I know of responsible, ordinary people whose names are ‘ethnic-sounding’ and have been referred to more thorough background checks by US authorities.  One was even a federal Canadian government employee!

For those lucky enough to work for a multinational, or other permitted (mostly  corporate) entities, NEXUS and FAST Cards will be Accepted Everywhere as of November 25 2009. In addition, these passes will be accepted in all lanes at all land and sea border ports of entry.

This closer information sharing is always of concern to those libertarian types who fret about increasing government surveillance of the entire public.  The risk is that the more efficient capturing of information by more and more governments would lead to more government knowledge about individuals, even those who are law-abiding.  To distract the public from this danger, governments make reference to terror, which, as the name implies, has the effect of terrifying people.  The reference in the above-press release doesn’t deviate from this pattern, as can be seen in the following quote:  “Those initiatives build on their shared commitment to tackle common threats like terrorism and organized crime while ensuring the lawful flow of travel and trade across the border.”

The reference to terror also has the added benefit (from the government’s point of view) of directing attention away from government intrusions into privacy, to those minorities who are stereotyped as terrorists.  These minorities tend to be politically ineffective (despite what right-wing talk radio enthusiasts assert) and thus will bear the brunt of the government’s references to terror.

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