Canada’s federal privacy watchdog has launched an investigation into the controversial ArriveCAN app following a recent complaint, Global News has learned.
“Our office has received and is currently investigating a complaint that raises concerns with respect to the collection of personal information through ArriveCAN and subsequent use of that information,” said the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in an email dated July 27.
July 28, 2022
July 8, 2022
Concerns about the type of personal data collected by ArriveCAN, how long this information is stored, and the way data is shared between different government agencies have been raised by privacy and legal experts over the past two years.
In June 2020, a group of federal Conservatives also asked the privacy commissioner to investigate ArriveCAN due to concerns they had about the potential misuse of data. The privacy commissioner responded two months later and said that he reviewed the app’s privacy conditions and that he didn’t have any concerns at the time.
Global News asked the privacy commissioner’s office for more details about the recent complaint – who made it, when it was made, and how long the investigation might take. The office declined to answer these questions, but confirmed the complaint is unrelated to the request sent by the Conservatives.
“Given the ongoing investigation and consultations, we do not have further details to provide at this time,” the privacy commissioner said.
Global News learned of the recent complaint from technology expert Bianca Wylie, who has closely followed developments surrounding the ArriveCAN app.
Wylie sent an email to the office of the privacy commissioner requesting information about the app and whether the commissioner had any concerns about its continued mandatory use at the border.
The office of the privacy commission responded to Wylie’s request indicating that it was currently investigating a complaint and therefore couldn’t provide additional information.
The email sent to Wylie did, however, say the privacy commissioner consulted the government and provided recommendations to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) when the ArriveCAN app was being developed.
These recommendations included the need to limit the type of data being collected as much as possible and ensure it was relevant to monitoring and enforcing the quarantine rules imposed by the government early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m glad to see someone has taken this action,” Wylie said. “But I don’t know enough to say where that’s going to go.”
ArriveCAN was first launched as a voluntary app in April 2020 as a way of collecting personal information needed by public health officials to enforce quarantine rules.
The app was made mandatory for everyone entering Canada by air in November 2020. This was then extended to anyone crossing the border by land in March 2021.
Its continued mandatory use has come under intense scrutiny over the past few months, especially as other public health measures fell to the wayside, such as mandatory masking and vaccine requirements.
The union representing Canada’s border agents has also said the app is a huge drain on resources and has turned front-line CBSA officers into IT consultants because they now spend much of their time helping people figure out how to use the app rather than focusing on security.
Call to Scrap ArriveCan App Goes International
Jun 15, 2022 – Press Release
American Congressman Brian Higgins spoke out against Canada’s invasive ArriveCan app, claiming it’s confusing and costing Canada tourism money.
“The ArriveCan app and other restrictions continue to be a barrier to the free flow of people across the northern border,” he said in an official statement
“The ArriveCAN app and other restrictions continue to be a barrier to the free flow of people across the northern border. My office regularly receives calls from Western New Yorkers frustrated and confused by the technology and frequently changing, disjointed requirements for crossing between the U.S. and Canada. Consequently, to bypass the uncertainty and hassle it creates, many are avoiding making the trip across the border entirely. We have to get back to pre-pandemic US-Canada border management. I stand with municipal leaders and tourism agencies in calling for an end to the ArriveCAN mandate.”
The Canadian government recently announced, “As of 00:01 EDT on June 20, 2022, the vaccination requirement to board a plane or a train in Canada will be suspended.” The suspension does not apply to those crossing at land borders. On May 31, 2022, Health Canada announced an extension of current border measures until at least June 30, 2022, this includes random COVID testing for those who are vaccinated and submission of information through the ArriveCAN app or website within 72 hours of travel.
Congressman Brian Higgins serves as co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Exchange and the Congressional Northern Border Caucus. His Western New York district includes the Cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
Higgins continues, saying that his office frequently receives calls from frustrated New Yorkers who run into problems with the app.
“My office regularly receives calls from Western New Yorkers frustrated and confused by the technology and frequently changing, disjointed requirements for crossing between the U.S. and Canada,” he said.
“Consequently, to bypass the uncertainty and hassle it creates, many are avoiding making the trip across the border entirely. We have to get back to pre-pandemic US-Canada border management. I stand with municipal leaders and tourism agencies in calling for an end to the ArriveCAN mandate.”
And Higgins isn’t the only one to call for Trudeau to scrap the app.
On Canada’s side of the border, Niagara mayor Jim Diodati says it’s ruining tourism — in a city with one of the world’s best attractions.
“What’s happening right now is Americans are showing up in their minivan, with their family, at the border, with no knowledge of the ArriveCan app. They don’t have roaming; they can’t download the app, there’s a line-up of cars behind them, they can’t get into the country,” Diodati said.
“…Many people are bypassing Canada, and that’s going to have long-lasting effects on this country.”
Many other border mayors have also spoken out against the app.
Diodati says that despite his attempts to get the attention of the federal minister, “the decision seems to be coming from the top.”
As reported in The Province, with 25 million dollars budgeted in the spring for the CBSA to “support the maintenance” of ArriveCan, it doesn’t look like the federal government wants to eliminate it.