Recent changes to Canada’s information exchange with other countries are meant to speed up processing time and increase security, but with increased access come questions about privacy and misuses of information.
Canada has amended the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) to include new automated immigration information sharing allowances with its FCC partners. This means that Canada will be automatically providing certain information about third-country nationals and permanent residents, if that information is requested by Australia, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom, and Canada can retrieve this same information automatically from these same countries (a similar pilot program exists with the United States). These changes are intended to eliminate excessive effort and delays in exchanging this information and to reduce fraud and security risks from “higher-risk” applicants such as asylum seekers and refugee claimants.
So what information will the governments of these countries be able to share? There will be limitations on what information can be disclosed and why/when, in order to allow those affected to maintain rights to privacy as much as possible. The IRPR limits the shareable information to biographic identity information, fingerprints, a digital photograph, and immigration-related information held by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The information has to be “necessary, relevant and proportionate” (IRPR, Division 3, 315.39) to the application of immigration, refugee, and citizenship law in the respective countries, and the information exchange is “query-based,” meaning that it will only be supplied when asked for. A query can only be made “to support an examination or determination following an [immigration] application or claim made by a national of a third country” or to determine if “a national of a third country is authorized to travel to, enter or remain in Canada.” (IRPR, Division 3, 315.4 (1)) The governments involved are also required to ensure as best they can that the information exchanged is accurate, and the information sent will not allow access to databases or complete records, and once utilised to attempt to determine identity, fingerprints submitted as part of the query are to be automatically disposed of rather than kept on file.
While these limitations on access to and use of this automated information are significant, so are the privacy concerns. Immigration files can include very personal information, from family photos to medical records. And data compiled by immigration officers or otherwise sourced from someone other than the applicant that differs from the information supplied by an applicant could also cause problems for those hoping to immigrate.
While Canadian citizens are exempt from the information sharing, those who are here temporarily and others in potentially precarious living situations (including refugee claimants) are not. Many people come to Canada to experience the rights and freedoms granted to Canadians, but these changes to the Regulations show that not everyone present in Canada gets to enjoy those rights and freedoms the same way.