Ottawa airport wired with microphones as Border Services prepares to record travellers’ conversations

By Ian MacLeod, The Ottawa Citizen

Sophisticated cameras and microphones will put passengers at the Ottawa airport  under greater scrutiny than ever before.

OTTAWA — Sections of the Ottawa airport are now wired with microphones that  can eavesdrop on travellers’ conversations.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is nearing completion of a $500,000  upgrade of old video cameras used to monitor its new “customs controlled areas,” including the primary inspection area for arriving international passengers.

As part of the work, the agency is introducing audio-monitoring equipment as  well.

“It is important to note that even though audio technology is installed, no  audio is recorded at this time. It will become functional at a later date,” CBSA  spokesman Chris Kealey said in a written statement.

But whenever that occurs, the technology, “will record conversations,” the  agency said in a separate statement in response to Citizen questions.

Meanwhile, as many as 88 of the new high-definition video cameras are to be  ready this summer.

Once the Ottawa equipment is activated, signs will be posted referring  passersby to a “privacy notice” that will be posted on the CBSA website, and to  a separate help line explaining how the recordings will be used, stored,  disclosed and retained.

Already, though, the union representing about 45 CBSA employees at the Ottawa  airport is concerned personal workplace conversations and remarks could be  captured and become part of employees’ official record, Jean-Pierre Fortin,  national president of the Custom and Immigration Union, said Friday. He added  that the union only learned of the audio-recording development this week, after  the Citizen began making inquiries.

The CBSA statement said that audio-video monitoring and recording is already  in place at other unidentified CBSA sites at airports and border points of entry  as part of an effort to enhance “border integrity, infrastructure and asset  security and health and safety.”

That recording equipment may also be linked to a federal initiative to help  CBSA combat organized crime and internal smuggling conspiracies at big Canadian  airports.

A 2008 RCMP report said at least 58 crime groups were believed active at  major airports, typically by corrupting airport employees or placing criminal  associates in airport jobs to move narcotics and other contraband to and from  planes.

The Customs Act was amended in 2009 to allow for the creation of “customs  controlled areas” within airports, starting with those in Toronto, Montreal and  Vancouver, followed by Ottawa and other international Canadian aerodromes.

A crucial aspect of the change are proposed regulations giving border  services officers expanded powers to question, examine and search airport  workers and travellers, both domestic and international, within the designated  areas. –OTTAWA CITIZEN

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