Short version of this post: you have the right to opt for a physical pat-down instead of scanning in Canadian airports. Here’s the PDF you need to print out in case CATSA gives you a hard time about this.
Last February, on my way to PyCon in Atlanta, I had the displeasure of being bullied into going through one of the new naked scanners at Pearson International Airport. I’ve filed a complaint with CATSA about this incident, as the screener should have given me correct information when I asked if I had the right to opt out.
Yesterday, I contacted CATSA’s media office in Ottawa and spoke with a fellow named Mathieu Larocque. I asked where the specific policy was regarding opting out of the millimeter wave scanning. He said that it was indeed the policy that one could opt for a physical search, and pointed me at the same PDF flyer that Peter had pointed me at last week on Twitter. As far as I’ve been able to tell, the language in that flyer about the scanners being an alternative to a physical search appears to be the only policy information on the entire CATSA website indicating that one can opt out. Mathieu himself seemed surprised that there wasn’t an item in the FAQ to that effect. If you’d like to see their policy clarified on the website, please leave a comment via their form.
The machines in use in Canada are ProVision Advanced Imaging Technology millimeter wave scanners. As I understand it, these are different from the backscatter scanners being deployed in the US. I looked over the product documentation and it indicates that recording or immediately deleting images is a customizable option. When I brought this up with Mathieu, he said that he wasn’t sure of the technical details, but explained that there’s some additional piece of hardware which CATSA has not implemented, which is required for storing images. One assumes it’s some kind of hard drive or flash-based storage setup. I’m working on filing an Access to Information request to obtain the procurement information around CATSA’s order for these machines to confirm this as well as hopefully obtain more specific information about the implementation details of these machines.
That said – it doesn’t really matter how the storage stuff is implemented. A malicious agent with a cameraphone will still be able to snap a photo of the screen,
So yes, scanning is here in Canada, and yes, you’re entitled to opt out and have a physical search instead, even if CATSA hasn’t bothered making that very public on their website. If you opt for a private search, you have the right to ask for the search to be conducted in private, with an agent of the same gender as well as a second (same-gender) agent witnessing. There are plenty of good reasons to opt out – radiation, religion, privacy, being creeped out by the process, or just not thinking it’s an effective method of doing security, as pointed out by a leading air security expert.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has weighed in on this and other issues of travel privacy in a lengthy, informative post, which Mathieu confirmed is an accurate assesment of current CATSA policy.
Oh, and if you’re thinking of commenting? Please don’t post stuff about US TSA policy, it’s offtopic, and I’ve seen it already, trust me. More importantly, I really don’t want to hear about how you think this is not a big deal, so don’t even bother with comments to that effect :)