Candian officials criticize DHS' Secure Flight program

New American rules intended to beef up air security threaten the privacy of Canadians, pose financial headaches for small airlines and could disrupt the plans of sun-seeking travellers, critics say.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is pushing ahead with plans to collect personal information about air passengers on flights passing through American airspace, even if the plane never touches down on U.S. soil.

The name, gender and birth date of Canadians flying to destinations such as Cuba, Mexico or even Europe will be transmitted by airlines to the TSA under its Secure Flight program, to take effect next year. The agency will then vet the names against security watch lists.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says Secure Flight, which transfers the task of screening to the TSA from individual airlines, will reduce the number of false matches and clear up mistakes more quickly.


Roch Tasse of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group considers the program a threat to Canadian sovereignty.

"It's the United States having control over which Canadians are allowed to board a plane or not," he said.

For Canadians, the new rules amount to a "loss of personal information and sets a nasty precedent," said Mike Skrobica, interim president of the Air Transport Association of Canada.

Charter airlines and smaller outfits that lack sophisticated computer systems will have to invest in new technology, he said. "It will cost a lot of money to put this into place."

The security program could also put a crimp in last-minute travel plans because passenger information must first be relayed to Washington, ideally 72 hours in advance.

Transport Canada spokeswoman Maryse Durette said the federal government "continues to be in discussion with the U.S. on Secure Flight in order to minimize the impact of the program on Canadian air travellers and ensure that the security and privacy interests of both nations are respected."