Experts warn ArriveCAN app could be violating constitutionally protected rights – National

A recent glitch in the controversy ArriveCAN . App According to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), which sent false messages about fully vaccinated travelers saying they needed to be quarantined, affecting more than 10,000 people.

The extent of the glitch, revealed in a statement sent by CBSA to Global News, represents 0.7% of typical cross-border travelers per week.

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

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This baffles some data and privacy experts, who say the app may violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of movement.

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There is also a debate among experts about whether ordering people to stay in their homes for two weeks without justification is an illegal form of detention.

“It creates direct harm to those who receive this incorrect notice,” said Matt Malone, a law professor at Thompson River University in Kamloops, BC who specializes in trade secrets and confidential information. and follow it.

“The government has not provided sufficient transparency as to why that happened. And better accountability practices are needed to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

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ArriveCAN was initially launched in April 2020 as a voluntary tool to assist border forces in determining if people are eligible to enter Canada and if they meet stringent requirements. of COVID-19 or not.

It was made mandatory for all airliners 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 CBSA said it identified on July 14 and fixed six days later, meant the app was automatically emailing thousands of fully vaccinated travelers. tested positive for COVID-19 and told them they needed to be quarantined.

The announcements also raised concerns that the government does not have the authority to handle the app’s automated decision-making functions, which in theory are only meant to determine if information uploaded to the app is genuine. body or not.

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

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

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

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It also says it’s important for travelers to understand that the CBSA and public health officials are responsible for determining if someone needs to be quarantined – not the app.

But travelers who received the quarantine order in error told Global News there was no way to contact the government to correct the mistake. They say that efforts to do so have been met with automated messages or actors unable to specifically discuss the issue.

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Scassa said the early assessment of ArriveCAN completed by the government during the “deployment” phase of the application is intended to identify and help mitigate potential risks to the rights and freedoms of Canadians.

But the review — called the Algorithm Impact Assessment (AIA) — was unclear about how the app should function or the extent of its automated decision-making authority, Scassa said.

Part of the review is said to indicate whether ArriveCAN has the authority to make decisions on its own without human assistance, stating that decisions “can be made without the involvement of a person”. direct human involvement”.

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This is not combined with another part of the review that says the app will “only” be used to support human decision-makers, Scassa said.

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Scassa says whether or not the app makes its own decisions. Neither of these statements can be true.

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

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There’s no way to know for sure how many people followed the erroneous quarantine order sent out due to the glitch.

According to CBSA, the software update for ArriveCAN released on June 28 caused the glitch. Prior to this update, some travelers had experienced isolated issues with the app, CBSA said, but no widespread issues were reported.

The CBSA also said it has compiled a list of travelers affected by the incident and shared these details with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the agency responsible for contacting people. after they cross the border.

PHAC said it received the listing from the CBSA on July 25, but added that it only contains email addresses and unique app-generated identifiers for each traveler.

The agency said it emailed these travelers on July 26 – 12 days after the incident was first identified – to notify them that they or someone in their group of travelers had received orders were made by mistake and they do not need to be quarantined.

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Data and privacy experts also have more concerns about ArriveCAN.

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

This means that any attempt to obtain information about how the software works will likely be rejected by the government as these details are generally considered confidential, third party information in its own right. federal privacy and access to information law.

Companies that develop apps for the government have also cited non-disclosure agreements and “confidential” classifications of their work as reasons why they can’t disclose the details.

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Malone, privacy and data law expert, said the lack of public information about ArriveCAN’s software is of deep concern, especially given the recent incident.

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He also said regarding the government’s determination of this type of technology as a trade secret, given the potential impact of ArriveCAN on the lives of Canadians.

“It shows the fundamental problems we face when trying to fix them under applicable 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 was unsure if the recent ArriveCAN incident had grown to the point of unconstitutional.

That’s because it appeared to be relatively short-lived and because the government worked hard to fix the problem. She said that the government is also not trying to justify mistakes and not trying to enforce false quarantine orders.

However, she said, any decision made by mistake that affects a person’s basic rights is worrying. This is true whether decisions are made by humans, such as border guards, or by an apparatus that governs on behalf of the government.

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“It was an error. So, by definition, it’s not a legitimate violation of your freedom,” Mathen said.

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

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