US-VISIT RFID passes @ 3 US-CDN border xings beginning 8/4/05
Ari at OLTECO.com
Mon Aug 1 11:22:16 PDT 2005
High-tech border pass raises alarm
Friday, July 29, 2005 - 07:00
Local News - By Jennifer Pritchett
Whig-Standard Staff Writer
Kingston's closest U.S. border crossing will employ high-tech radio
frequency technology to monitor visitors from other countries who
want to enter the States from Canada - a move that alarms both a
Kingston privacy expert and an immigration specialist.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said this week that the
crossing between Lansdowne and Alexandria Bay, N.Y., will be one of
three Canada-U.S. land borders to require non-Canadians to carry
wireless devices as part of a pilot project.
Travellers will be required to carry the devices as of Aug. 4.
The technology is part of US-VISIT, a billion-dollar anti-terrorism
initiative launched last December that has kept about 700 criminals,
including one posing as a Canadian, out of the States.
US-VISIT uses biometric information from photos and fingerprints
taken from non-Canadians at border crossings to track residents from
other countries who enter the U.S.
Canadian citizens are the only people in the world exempt from US-VISIT.
Travellers required to use the technology include landed immigrants
living in Canada, Canadian citizens who are either engaged to a U.S.
citizen or who have applied for a special business visa.
They'll have to carry the wireless devices as a way for border guards
to access the electronic information stored inside a document about
the size of a large index card.
Visitors to the U.S. will get the card the first time they cross the
border and will be required the carry the document on subsequent
crossings to and from the States.
Border guards will be able to access the information electronically
from 12 metres away to enable those carrying the devices to be
processed more quickly.
Two other border crossings between Surrey, B.C., and Blaine, Wash.,
will also be implementing the technology as part of the pilot project.
Kimberly Weissman, spokeswoman for the US-VISIT program at the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security told The Whig-Standard yesterday that
the new devices can't be tracked outside the border crossing area.
"It has a range of 10 to 15 metres," she said.
"The UHF frequency that we've chosen makes it impossible to locate a
But the use of the wireless technology raises alarm bells for Queen's
University law professor and privacy expert Art Cockfield.
"It's intrusive and these are worrisome developments," he said.
"Often these technologies are introduced in a fairly minor form and
then the technology is extended.What would be very troubling to me
would be the tracking of visitors after they've crossed the border."
Cockfield, who's part of a Queen's research group called the
Globalization of Personal Data Team, said he's so alarmed by these
new devices that his team will likely investigate them further after
learning about them yesterday.
Though the new devices don't violate Canadian law, because visitors
are under the jurisdiction of American law once inside the U.S.,
Cockfield said their use raises disturbing questions about how the
technology may be used in the future.
"If I'm close to the border and still on Canadian ground and a U.S.
customs guard is scanning me and finding out personal information
about me, that actually might be a violation of Canadian law because
they're collecting information on a Canadian resident who is still in
Canada," Cockfield said.
He said the devices smack of a "Martha Stewart-like prison tracking
"It's one thing to have a police officer approach you and ask for
your identification, but it's another thing for somebody sitting in
an office somewhere in Washington to track all your movements through
a satellite signal," he said.
"It's in the realm of possibilities."
He said the devices move the world closer to a total surveillance
"It certainly tracks you as you approach the border and as you cross
the border," he said.
"If we think we're subject to government surveillance, that
immediately changes our behaviour," he said. "If you want to swear
about Bush, you might hold yourself back. It inhibits political
dissent because if we think the government is watching us, we'll be
less likely to call a town hall meeting to protest something we're
Cockfield, who just moved back to Canada from a seven-year stint
teaching in Texas, also believes the devices will result in less
"I try not to go as frequently as usual because of these border
hassles, and I'm white and I'm a Canadian citizen," he said. "If I
was non-white and a landed immigrant, I would hesitate to a greater
He said the initiative will have a long-term, negative impact on
"The flows of people [across the border] bring about ties and
understanding between the two countries," he said. "If we inhibit
those flows, then maybe it will actually harm the security of the
U.S. We will be less trusting of the Americans."
Sam Laldin of Kingston and District Immigrant Services also agrees
that requiring non-Canadians to carry such electronic devices may
deter some people from travelling to the U.S.
"If I don't have to, I will avoid going there," he said.
Laldin, who came to Canada from Pakistan in 1967, said a lot has
changed since he became a Canadian citizen in 1970.
Laldin said this latest security step will affect hundreds of people
living in Kingston, many of whom use the Lansdowne border crossing
when they travel to the U.S.
Last year alone, Kingston District Immigrant Services provided
assistance to roughly 1,200 people from 35 countries.
Laldin said the devices open the door to the possibility of the
American government tracking people and gathering intelligence about
"I kind of feel uncomfortable because I don't know what that device
is doing and I don't know where that device is reporting," he said.
"Although they say it will expedite your entry through the border, it
may be doing something else, too."
While he understands that extra measures may need to be taken to
ensure that non-Canadians entering the U.S. have the proper
documentation, he doesn't agree with the use of the electronic
"The flip side of all this is the security and safety of the country
and the people living in the country and where to draw the line -
it's a difficult thing," he said.
"I think they could do everything they need to do at the border
crossing instead of giving people something to carry with them," he
"My nephew is a Canadian medical doctor and each time he crosses back
and forth, they fingerprint him, which is fine if that's the law they
want. People come prepared and they know they'll be fingerprinted.
"But to carry a device is something I personally don't think I would
want to do."
- With a file from Whig-Standard News Services
- - -
Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people
who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.
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