In recent years, governments around the world seemingly love to intrude on their citizens’ privacy via their use of technology. The latest victim is a Canadian from Quebec. 38 year old Alain Philippon from Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, is facing up to a year in jail and a fine of up to CA$25,000 for refusing to unlock his BlackBerry smartphone.
Philippon’s refusal was allegedly “obstructing” an in-depth security screening by the border service officials at the Halifax airport. After he refused to provide his BlackBerry phone password to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers upon his arrival from the Dominican Republic, he was detained.
“Philippon refused to divulge the passcode for his cell phone, preventing border services officers from their duties,” the Canada Border Services Agency told AFP.
He was charged under section 153.1 (b) of the Customs Act. After being let out on bail, and having lost the privilege of using his seized BlackBerry, Philippon is to appear in court in May to face charges that could see him jailed for up to a year and a CA$25,000 fine.
Speaking to local media, Philippon said he would fight the charges, claiming that he refused to provide the password because his smartphone data is “personal.”
“Officers are trained in examination, investigative and questioning techniques,” a Canada border services spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC. “To divulge our approach may render our techniques ineffective. Officers are trained to look for indicators of deception and use a risk management approach in determining which goods may warrant a closer look.”
Philippon is likely to be the first person in Canada to test the depth and the scope of the applicable law.
“This is a question that has not been litigated in Canada, whether they can actually demand you to hand over your password to allow them to unlock the device,” Rob Currie, director of the Law and Technology Institute at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University told CBC.
“[It’s] one thing for them to inspect it, another thing for them to compel you to help them,” Currie added.