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Viewpoint: Biometrics Vs. Privacy

I doubt you've spent much time over the past year thinking about Liberian seafarers or Australian commercial pilots. But you should have.



I doubt you’ve spent much time over the past year thinking about Liberian seafarers or Australian commercial pilots. But you should have.

Why? Because currently there are more than 2,000 seafarers on Liberian-flagged ships carrying wallet-sized identification cards with a digitized photograph, fingerprint data and other personal identification.

And the Australian Customs Service began facial scanning for selected flight crews in January. They represent the vanguard of a reality soon to wash upon our own shores. Biometric identification for transportation workers is no longer on the horizon; it’s already here.

Governments from around the world, either led or pushed by the U.S., are looking for ways to ensure transportation workers do not present security risks and they are looking hard at how to marry security with biometrics. Canada is no different. The science of recognizing a person through use of a distinctive biological or behavioral characteristic is emerging as a key strategy in securing supply chains against terrorist attack. Tom Ridge, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has called biometrics critical to his department’s job in securing cargo and people. Biometric recognition is sure to receive consideration for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s proposed Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), which Canadian drivers may be required to carry to enter the U.S.

I wonder though how such technology will be received by our truck drivers and how it will fare if contested under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which came into force in 2001 for federally regulated companies and this year for provincially regulated private sector organizations.

Already a railway employee has used PIPEDA to object to the use of video surveillance equipment set up in his employer’s yard to protect against vandalism and theft. The employer informed employees about the existence of the cameras and their purpose, and even provided details about the camera locations. Yet a commission looking into the complaint ruled in favor of the railway employee, concluding that the video surveillance equipment was improperly collecting personal information.

Other transportation employees have used PIPEDA to launch complaints against the security clearance checks conducted by their employers. They involved a criminal record check for employees with 10 years of service or more, and a full background check for employees with less than 10 years of service. Those complaints did not succeed as the investigating commission concluded the request for information was reasonable given the enhanced concern over possible acts of terrorism. But again I wonder how many complaints will be filed under PIPEDA when truck drivers and other transportation sector workers have to line up for biometric testing such as iris and retina scans, face and hand geometry and fingerprinting? And it’s likely they will be subjected to more than one test because no one test is full proof.

Government leaders and fleet owners implementing biometric technology in coming years will be challenged to prove to truck drivers the technology can be used to protect the supply chain without infringing on individual rights to privacy. If common sense does not prevail, it will be a feeding frenzy for lawyers familiar with the PIPEDA legislation.n

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached at 416-442-2922 or lsmyrlis@businessinformationgroup.ca


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