Revealed: Canada uses massive US anti-terrorist database at borders
Canada Revealed: Canada uses massive US anti-terrorist database at borders
â¢ Documents released to the Guardian show Tuscan contains more than 680,000 names provided to every border guard
â¢ Database is effectively a second Canadian no-fly list, run by the US
Canadian border guards have been screening travellers using a huge, secretive US anti-terrorism database that is almost never referred to publicly, new documents reveal.
The database, called Tuscan, is provided to every Canadian border guard and immigration officer, and empowers them to detain, interrogate, arrest and deny entry to anyone found on it.
Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the Guardian through Canadaâs access to information system reveal the fullest picture yet of a database that, although employed in Canada, is maintained exclusively by the US. It contains the personal information of as many as 680,000 people believed by US authorities to be linked with terrorism, and functions effectively as a second no-fly list that is cloaked in secrecy.
Canadaâs official no-fly list is called the Passenger Protect Program, which lists known and suspected terrorists who a re forbidden from flying to or from Canada. One estimate concludes it has around 100,000 names, and the government has offered a redress so travellers can apply to have their name removed.Father of Canadian six-year-old on no-fly list: our family is not alone Read more
Tuscan, however, is much larger and is managed entirely by the US government. There is no clear process in Canada to have your name removed from the list â" nor would the US be required to oblige.
Whatâs more, while Canadaâs no-fly list only applies to airports, Tuscan extends to every land and sea border in Canada, as well as visa and immigration applications.
Ottawa has never formally recognised the scope of Tuscan, although it is forging ahead with a closely guarded plan to expand and update it. Originally created in 1997 as a consular aid, the list was repurposed and expanded after 9/11, and in 2016 Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama agreed to expand it still further.
The list effectively means that people cleared by the Canadian government to travel in and out of the country might still be detained because of the American list.
It could also explain why certain travellers are searched and questioned more frequently or extensively, or why others have visas or immigration applications denied.
In March of 2015, Abdisalam Wilwal and his family were stopped at the Minnesota b order on their return from visiting relatives in Canada. On the outbound border crossing, Canadian border guards said his file âincluded a notation from US authorities that might result in US authorities questioning him more than usual when he sought to re-enter the United States,â according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Wilwal was detained upon returning to the US, and later released after authorities determined he had no connection to terrorism.
Although the language used by the Canadian border guard suggests Wilwal was on Tuscan, it can be difficult to confirm given that there is no way of checking who is on the database. The names come from the US Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide), which is vetted by the FBIâs Terrorist Screening Center and populates various US traveller databases, as well as Canadaâs Tuscan and an equivalent in Australia called Tactics.
These databases facilitate the practic e of racial and ethnic profilingLex Gill, University of Toronto Citizen Lab
Whenever a traveller crosses a Canadian land or sea border, enters the country through airport passport control, applies for a visa, or attempts to immigrate into Canada, their name is checked against the database. If there is a match, the border official can request so-called âderogatory informationâ, which includes any evidence on file of the travellerâs ties to terrorist activity or groups.
American anti-terrorism lists have frequently been accused of including names of people with no links to terrorism. In 2014, the Intercept obtained data showing that 40% of the 680,000 names in the FBIâs list had no known ties to any terrorist group. Internal audits have found high error rates and incomplete records that could mix up people with similar names.
The ACLU has challenged the constitutionality of databases such as Tide, contending the process for bei ng added to these lists is vague, the effects can be severe and the databases are prone to errors. âNon-citizens can even be watchlisted based on innocent associations with others who are watchlisted,â said Hugh Handeyside, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU.
Databases such as Tuscan pose âsignifcant civil liberties concerns,â said Lex Gill, a research fellow at the University of Toronto Citizen Lab. Legal and human rights experts, she notes, have âconsistently raised the issue of false positives, as well as the risk that these databases facilitate the practice of racial and ethnic profiling, which has particularly acute impacts for those of Muslim and Arab descentâ.Canada rejecting more refugee claims amid border-crossing increase under Trump Read more
Canadaâs own official no-fly list has come under intense scrutiny after children as young as three were listed. But whereas Ottawa has trumpeted a program to help travelle rs get their names removed from that no-fly list, Tuscan offers no such obvious redress.
In fact, Tuscan â" which stands for Tipoff US/Canada â" is mentioned almost nowhere in Canadian government documents except an obscure 2005 Citizenship and Immigration Canada report [pdf], where it is described as a way for both governments to âshare data in order to deny entry to foreign terrorists who may attempt to travel to Canada and/or the United Statesâ. There is a similarly passing reference [8.6MB pdf] in a commission of inquiry from 2006 into the detention of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was flown to Syria and tortured.
Despite this, Ottawa is forging ahead with an update to the system. The briefing notes obtained by the Guardian, prepared for Ralph Goodale, Canadaâs public safety minister, reveal the Canadian government has worked for the past three years to expand its involvement in Tuscan, without public acknowledgment or public consultation.
A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada confirmed that Tuscan is provided to all Canadian border and immigration officials âfor the purpose of guiding decisions on admissibility to Canadaâ.
The spokesperson said that, while an agreement was signed in June 2016 to expand and modernize the program, negotiations were ongoing between the two countries to finalize the details.
When asked what Ottawa is doing to ensure that the database is accurate, and to ensure that innocent travellers arenât caught up in the database, the spokesperson said: âProcedures have been introduced to allow for the consideration of exculpatory and clarifying information, as well as to update and correct information when errors are detected. Protocols also exist around the use and protection of information.â
The spokesperson refused to confirm the number of names on Tuscan, citing âoperational reasonsâ.Topics
- US immigra tion
- US national security
- Justin Trudeau
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