U.S. and Canada set to share traveler information

Published on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 by Meg Olson

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By midsummer, U.S. and Canadian border agencies will be sharing information on all travelers crossing the border, so that entering one country will provide a record of leaving the other.

The Beyond the Border Action Plan and declaration, agreed to by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2011, committed both countries to begin implementing a data exchange system. 

Implementation began in September 2012 when the countries started exchanging biographic information on third-country nationals and permanent residents of the U.S. and Canada at selected ports of entry. By June 2013, the system was due to be in place at all land border ports, and the plan calls for the exchange of data on all travelers by June 2014.

“Our governments are committed to establishing a coordinated entry and exit information system that bolsters security and improves the efficiency of our shared border,” said Canadian minister of public safety Vic Toes at the launch of phase two of the program. A Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) fact sheet stated the program would be “closing the loop on an individual’s travel history.”

A joint U.S./Canada report on phase one of the project stated the program had identified “persons detected overstaying their authorized periods of stay,” indicated “whether an individual complied with the terms of his or her admission/entry,” and identified “persons subject to a removal or departure order.”

The report stated the two countries could meet this need for additional information “through mutual collaboration and without expensive new infrastructure or unnecessary processing that would slow down trade and travel between the two countries.”

U.S. Congress first mandated an “automated entry and exit control system” as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. 

Border officials have considered various ways to implement such a system, including inspection booths for travelers leaving the country, but frequently met with local concerns that it would unduly hamper legitimate trade and travel. “I think most people would agree this was a more innovative, sensible approach to satisfying the entry/exit mandate,” said Hugh Conroy with the International Mobility and Trade Corridor program and the Whatcom Council of Governments.

Privacy has been a concern on both sides of the border. When asked which agencies within the Canadian government would have access to information collected, CBSA representative Maja Graham stated that under phase two, which is currently underway collecting information on third-country and permanent residents, there would be “no systematic disclosure of entry/exit information to U.S. and Canadian federal government departments or agencies.” Requests would be handled on a “case by case basis.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection media representatives for the Beyond the Border Action Plan in Washington, D.C. did not return calls for comment. Their press release stated, “the process of collecting and sharing information will be done in accordance with each country’s privacy laws and policies.”