'ArriveCan isn't saving lives....it's causing havoc': Problematic app sparks travel delays, privacy issues but isn’t going anywhere

·Contributing Reporter
·4 min read

The ArriveCAN website got a makeover.

The government website once read, "It only takes minutes to help keep each other safe." Now it says, "ArriveCAN is not only keeping travellers safe, but is part of our ongoing efforts to modernize our border."

Last week, in Windsor, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters, "ArriveCAN was originally created for COVID-19, but it has technological capacity beyond that, to shrink the amount of time that is required when you're getting screened at the border."

The app was first designed as a COVID-19 screening tool that allowed travellers to report their trips and prove vaccination status.

Those who don't comply face flight delays, 14-day quarantine, and even a $5,000 fine.

Now, Mendicino suggests that the app is here to stay as part of Canada's cross-border experience. The latest version of ArriveCAN (v.2.3) allows travellers to submit custom declaration forms upon arrival.

"So that's the vision is really to utilize the platform to decrease the amount of time, so CBSA officers can really focus on the problem areas, like if you're trying to smuggle a gun or trying to smuggle drugs," he told reporters in Windsor.

Even though updates were made quietly, Canadians noticed and are not happy.

The Alberta Institute recently launched a petition to abolish the ArriveCAN app. The goal was to reach 20,000 signatures, which has been exceeded. The new objective, the President of the Alberta Institute, Peter McCaffrey, said, is to hit 50,000 signatures in the hopes of politicians stopping the app's expansion and ending its use as quickly as possible.

"We're particularly concerned about governments using emergencies as an excuse to expand their powers and push through programs they would never get away with during normal times," he explained. "Once new programs and powers are in place they become very difficult to undo and we don't want to see this become normalized."

David Fraser, a privacy lawyer in Halifax with McInnis-Cooper, has similar concerns. On CBC's Information Morning with Portia Clark he said, "The ArriveCAN app has been gradually in the background, had its functions significantly expanded in ways that collect and use way more sensitive and personal information than before, and it hasn't been subject to the same sort of scrutiny.

He would like the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to audit the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Public Health Agency of Canada to look at the app's backend. Last month, the federal Privacy Commissioner investigated the Tim Hortons app and found privacy laws violated in collecting extensive amounts of sensitive data for "promotional use."

Surveillance measures controversy in Canada did not start with the ArriveCAN app. Without warning, the government tracked Canadians' movements via their mobile phones throughout the pandemic.

The idea of an app that increases efficiency at the border isn't inherently bad, McCaffrey said. Still, it must be entirely optional and only be used to collect the absolute minimum required information.

"If we're going to make border controls more efficient through technology, there needs to be clear and transparent regulations around what data can be collected and how that data can be used," he adds.

For now, the update says the service will only apply to travellers arriving at international airports in Vancouver or Toronto. Until further notice, Canada's COVID-19 border measures are extended until at least Sept. 30, including the ArriveCAN app.