Canada balks at U.S. overflight security rules

Canada is balking at a U.S. plan that would require Canadian airlines to turn over information about passengers flying above the United States to reach third countries.

The Government of Canada recently submitted its official comments on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the Secure Flight Program, urging the U.S. to exempt all Canadian overflights.

"The Government of Canada is concerned about the implications of the U.S. proposed Secure Flight Program; and we are working hard to find a solution," said Cannon, Canada's Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities "Canada and the United States have long worked closely together to promote aviation security, and this cooperation has greatly intensified since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. We want to continue this spirit of cooperation, which includes an assessment of threat and risk, recognizes existing security initiatives and values privacy and individual rights."

The official comments represent Canada's position and recommendations on the proposed U.S. Secure Flight Program. They include an assertion that, in light of existing strong security protocols and security initiatives and ongoing and growing cooperative capacity to address security challenges, all flights between Canada and third countries that overfly the U.S. should be exempt from the U.S. Secure Flight program. (All domestic Canadian flights, representing over 75 per cent of overflights, will be exempt under the proposed U.S. Secure Flight Program.)

"We acknowledge the right of a country under the international law of the 1944 Chicago Convention to regulate access to its airspace, including overflights that do not land in its territory," continued Minister Cannon.

"However, in light of our complementary security systems and the security cooperation of Canada and the United States, and the relative risk, we believe that there are excellent security grounds for the proposed Secure Flight Program to exempt all flights to, from and within Canada that overfly the United States."

Cannon believes the risks represented by overflights can be mitigated and managed through effective security measures and appropriate cooperation between the two countries.

The official comments also express concern about the impact that the proposed program would have on the privacy of Canadians, many of whom take part in a winter exodus to Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean. The protection of the privacy of travelers is of critical concern to Canadians.

The concept of consent is central to Canadian privacy standards and Canada is concerned that the proposed Secure Flight program could use passenger information for vetting against watch lists of individuals, beyond those who pose a threat to aviation security.

Earlier this year, the Bush Administration proposed a security program to screen airline passengers and finalized a rule that require air carriers operating international flights to send federal security authorities passenger data before planes take off rather than afterward, as is now the case. DHS said the measures will strengthen aviation security through uniform and consistent passenger prescreening against government watch lists.

DHS published two regulations that will initiate these changes: the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) Predeparture Final Rule, which enables DHS to collect manifest information for international flights departing from or arriving in the United States prior to boarding; and, the Secure Flight NPRM, which lays out DHS plans to assume watch list matching responsibilities from air carriers for domestic flights and align domestic and international passenger prescreening.

Congress mandated that DHS' Customs and Border Protection (CBP) establish a requirement to receive advance information on international passengers traveling by air prior to their departure, as part of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA).

Today, CBP requires commercial carriers to provide APIS and certain Passenger Name Record (PNR) data arriving in or departing from the United States. The final APIS predeparture regulation will require air carriers to transmit manifests 30 minutes prior to departure of the aircraft or provide manifest information on passengers as each passenger checks in for the flight, up to the time when aircraft doors are secured.

The new plan would require airline passengers to give their full names when they make their reservations. They also will be asked if they are willing to provide their address, date of birth and sex to reduce false matches with names on government terrorist watch lists.