No-Fly Lists and Border Controls

About this research project

In the context of the growing deployment of the North American Security Perimeter a dizzying number of watch lists and computerized risk scoring systems are being set up in Canada and the United States. Travellers are being screened against the Canadian no-fly list, the U.S. no-fly list, and other watch lists which may contain a total of one million names before the end of 2008.

Moreover, the U.S. is planning to implement its new Secure Flight program which will increase the risk of passengers being turned back, singled out for secondary interrogation or even detained. And the airline industry has a secret list of persons it considers undesirable.

The Canada Border Services Agency has its own series of "lookouts" and risk assessment mechanisms for persons of interest, developed jointly with the U.S. The unchecked proliferation and harmonization of these lists mean that more and more people are being snagged. The odds of mistaken identities or false positive is increasing, putting people at risk of being unfairly targeted, denied the right of entry, or detained with little or no recourse.

There are serious concerns that many individuals, who are often pulled out, are victims of racial, ethnic or religious profiling. Increasingly, other groups who encounter problems when travelling include: peace and labour activists, who have taken part in demonstrations or picket lines, members of the Gay and Lesbian community and many others who share the same names as individuals on watch lists.

This research project on the surveillance of travellers aims to document the number of people who believe they have been mistakenly or unfairly targeted, and the nature of the incident. Its purpose is also to investigate and generate better public understanding of the practices, programs and systems used to screen travellers at Canadian airports and at Canada/U.S. border crossings in order to assess the scope and depth of their concrete impacts on privacy rights and mobility rights.

The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and its partners have set up this research project because we need more knowledge to inform our work promoting and defending civil liberties, privacy rights and mobility rights.