A 38-year-old Canadian citizen has been arrested for refusing to hand over his smartphone’s password to border agents.
Alain Philippon, of Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines in Quebec, arrived at Halifax international airport in Canada from the Dominican Republic on Wednesday – and was selected by the Canada Border Services Agency for further screening.
In the course of that search he was asked to provide the password for his phone but refused. He was charged with “hindering or preventing border officers from performing their role,” according to CBC.
If found guilty, Philippon could face a fine of anywhere between CAN$1,000 and CAN$25,000 (US$19,900, £13,000) as well as a possible one-year jail sentence.
Philippon was released on bail, and is reportedly willing to challenge the decision when he heads to court on May 12. That challenge would create an interesting legal case in an area of increasing importance: digital “goods” and the right to privacy.
While border officials are given much broader search powers than other authorities, the issue of whether a Canadian border agent is entitled to demand access to the contents of Canadian’s private phone or laptop has not been tested in court.
The agents rely on a interpretation of the word “goods” from legislation written long before smartphones started storing huge amount of personal data. While there is no argument that border agents are entitled to search within people’s luggage, the question of what “inspection” refers to remains uncertain.
An agent can inspect a phone or laptop from the outside, but should they be entitled to compel someone to provide access to its content and if so under what grounds?