Experts warn ArriveCAN app could violate constitutionally protected rights – National


According to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), a recent glitch in the controversial ArriveCAN app that sent fully vaccinated travelers erroneous messages saying they should self-quarantine has affected more than 10,000 people.

The scale of the glitch, which was revealed in a statement sent to Global News by the CBSA, represents 0.7% of the typical number of cross-border travelers each week.

Global News also learned that it took the government 12 days to notify travelers of the error.

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That’s troubling to some data and privacy experts who say the app could violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects the right to move freely.

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There is also debate among experts over whether ordering people to stay home for two weeks without justification is a form of illegal detention.

“This creates direct harm for people who receive this incorrect notification and follow it,” said Matt Malone, a law professor at Thompson River University in Kamloops, British Columbia, who specializes in trade secrets and confidential information. .

“The government has not provided enough transparency on why this happened. And there needs to be better accountability practices in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

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ArriveCAN was originally launched in April 2020 as a voluntary tool to help border guards determine if people were eligible to enter Canada and met strict COVID-19 requirements.

It was made mandatory for all air travelers seven months later. In March 2021, it was extended to anyone crossing the border by land.

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The app collects personal data, such as name, phone number, address and vaccination status, which is then used to help public health officials enforce government quarantine rules.

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But the recent glitch, which the CBSA says it identified on July 14 and fixed six days later, means the app has autonomously emailed thousands of fully vaccinated travelers who hadn’t been tested. positive for COVID-19 and told them they had to self-quarantine.

The posts also raise concerns that the government has no control over the app’s automated decision-making features, which in theory only aim to determine whether information uploaded to the app is accurate.

“I think it’s very troubling and I think it raises important questions about the government’s use of AI,” said Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Law and Policy at the Institute. information at the University of Ottawa.

“It’s one of their flagship tools and there doesn’t seem to be any transparency or clear governance.”

The government says ArriveCAN is the fastest and most efficient way to screen people crossing the border to ensure they are vaccinated against COVID-19 and to monitor the spread of new variants.

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He also said it’s important for travelers to understand that the CBSA and public health officials are responsible for determining whether someone should be quarantined, not enforcement.

But travelers who received the wrong quarantine order told Global News there was no way to contact the government to correct the error. Efforts to do so, they say, have been met with automated messages or agents who could not specifically discuss the issue.

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Scassa said an initial review of ArriveCAN conducted by the government during the app’s “implementation” phase was meant to identify and help mitigate potential risks to the rights and freedoms of Canadians.

But the review – known as an Algorithmic Impact Assessment (AIA) – is unclear about how the app is meant to perform or the scope of its automated decision-making authority, said Scassa.

A section of the review that purports to indicate whether ArriveCAN has the authority to make decisions on its own, without the assistance of a human, states that decisions “can be made without direct human intervention.”

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Scassa said that doesn’t align with another section of the review that says the app will “only” be used to help human decision makers.

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Either the app makes its own decisions or it doesn’t, Scassa said. Both of these statements cannot be true.

“That’s not supposed to be how automated decision-making works,” she said.

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There’s no way to know for sure how many people obeyed the erroneous quarantine orders sent out because of the issue.

A software update for ArriveCAN released on June 28 introduced the problem, according to the CBSA. Prior to this update, some individual travelers were experiencing isolated issues with the app, the CBSA said, but no widespread issues were reported.

The CBSA also said it has compiled a list of travelers affected by the glitch and shared those details with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which is responsible for contacting people after crossing the border.

PHAC said it received the list from CBSA on July 25, but added that it only contained the email address and unique identification number created by the app for each traveler.

The agency said it emailed those travelers on July 26 — 12 days after the issue was first identified — to let them know they or a member of their travel party had received the order in error and that they didn’t need to quarantine.

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Data and privacy experts also have broader concerns about ArriveCAN.

The technology behind the app is considered a “trade secret,” according to the app’s AIA.

This means that any attempt to obtain information about the operation of the software will likely result in a government denial, as these details are often considered confidential third-party information under federal privacy and access laws. information.

The companies that developed the app for the government also cited nondisclosure agreements and the “secret” classification of their work as reasons they can’t release the details.

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Malone, the data and privacy law expert, said the lack of publicly available information about ArriveCAN’s software is deeply concerning, especially in light of the recent issue.

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He also said it was concerning that the government was defining this type of technology as a trade secret, given the potential impact ArriveCAN could have on the lives of Canadians.

“It exposes the fundamental problems we have in seeking redress under existing privacy and data protection laws,” he said.

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Carissima Mathen, a constitutional expert and law professor at the University of Ottawa, said she wasn’t sure ArriveCAN’s recent issue rose to the level of a constitutional violation.

This is because it seems to have been relatively short-lived and because the government has made efforts to fix the problem. She said the government also did not try to justify the mistake and was not trying to enforce the faulty quarantine orders.

Yet, she said, any decision made in error that impacts a person’s basic rights is concerning. This is true whether the decision is made by a human, such as a border guard, or an autonomous machine acting on behalf of the government.

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” It is a mistake. So, by definition, it’s not a justified infringement of your freedom,” Mathen said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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