Opting out from naked scanning – Canadian edition

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.

Thanks to Lisa for pointing me to the Privacy Commision report, and to Peter for pointing me at several of the CATSA links.

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 🙂

Travel tricks

I have a couple not terribly secret secrets to awesome travel deals.


Ok, there are only really two:

ITA Software’s “Matrix” flight booking system, and Hotwire combined with betterbidding.com. Here’s how I use them.

Enter the Matrix

ITA Software, a recent Google acquisition, has the most amazing website for pricing out flights.  You can’t buy them on there, but you can spec out a fare and then re-create it on the airline site or your preferred multi-airline aggregator (Kayak, Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, etc.).

They have two versions of their site: the original and Matrix 2.  I had been using the original site up til now – for simple fare constructions, it’s quick.  I was looking for flights with a somewhat complex set of requirements this evening and had another look at the Matrix2 site and it’s improved a lot since I last tried it.  Any day after next Wednesday, 3 or 4 nights stay, one city to any of 3 different cities?  No problem.  I’m blown away.  And that’s not even looking at open jaw or multi-hop flights.


Leigh’s lazy way to get awesome hotel rooms without guessing much or waiting:  it’s pretty simple.  Shop on hotwire.com (link uses the betterbidding affiliate code), and use the hotel lists on betterbidding.com to check which hotel you’re getting into.  I prefer Hotwire to Priceline because it’s quicker (even if they don’t have William Shatner as a spokesperson!).  And it reminds me of dodgy ancient filesharing networks.  But anyway… One trick I saw on one of the forums: vary whether you add kids or not to the booking and you’ll get a different selection of hotels.

One more thing…

Airline miles and loyalty programs can be pretty awesome.  Air Canada currently has the lowest Star Alliance Gold redemption level in the Star Alliance system at 35,000 miles.  This gets you lounge access for a whole year.  Sweet, but also potentially money- and hassle-saving as there is free food 🙂

I haven’t really optimized my dealings with non-Star Alliance airlines yet, but the other two main airline networks are Skyteam (Delta, Alaskan, KLM…) and Oneworld (American, British, Quantas…)

Good resources on these topics are flyertalk and for the Canucks, canflyer and Red Flag Deals.