The ACLU today released a set of “Core Legal Principles” that we believe should govern U.S. border policies – specifically, a “North American Security Perimeter” plan that the United States and Canada are jointly developing. We are jointly releasing these Legal Principles with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the London-based Privacy International.
President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper first announced plans to develop this Security Perimeter in February, 2011, declaring that the objectives of the plan would be:
• “Addressing threats early;”
• Trade facilitation;
• Integrated cross-border law enforcement;
• Critical infrastructure and cybersecurity.
The two countries are expected to unveil their detailed agreement later this week.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has imposed disruptive new security policies on our border with Canada, and businesses on both sides of the border have not been happy. So as a solution that will satisfy both businesses and security agencies, the U.S. is seeking to impose its security policies on Canada to make one big, happy “perimeter.”
But the question is: will the privacy, the constitutional right to travel, and other civil liberties of Americans and Canadians be the victim here?
While many parts of the agreement may be fine, many of the U.S. security policies that the countries may be “harmonizing” are problematic. For example:
- The objective of “addressing threats early,” while a good thing on its face, also raises the specter of “pre-crime” – ominous efforts at the suspicionless monitoring and evaluation of individuals without proper legal process.
- The U.S. watch list system has been a disaster – bloated, error-filled, and lacking due process.
- A pattern of politically motivated domestic spying in the United States that needs to end.
- The issue of cybersecurity raises significant privacy concerns.
- The lack of U.S. privacy oversight (including Obama’s refusal to fill a congressionally-mandated oversight board) remains a concern.
Canada has its own security agencies pushing for expanded powers, but in general Canada’s policies are not as bad as our own – they have more powerful overarching privacy laws in place (as well as a privacy commissioner’s office to enforce them) and should not be pressured by our own government into weakening them. If both governments will simply follow the straightforward principles that we have laid out, there will not be a problem.
What we need to see is the United States improving its own policies – not forcing them upon our allies, and thereby turning them into international norms, which threatens to entrench subpar standards and delay the day when wiser heads are able to reform them.