Quietly but steadily, Canadian and U.S. border control agencies have launched the initial phases of a shared data collection system capable of tracking all entries and exits into either country, a development that some Canadian snowbirds and frequent border shoppers will be watching with considerable interest.
Part of the Beyond the Border Declaration and Action Plan agreed to by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in 2011, the Entry/Exit information system is designed to facilitate exchanges of border crossing information so that an entry into one country is considered an exit from the other.
Under the Entry/Exit system now being tested, the date Canadians exit the U.S. and cross back into Canada will be shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and filed as their official “exit” from the U.S. Consequently, there will be a permanent record of exactly how many days any Canadian has spent in the U.S, and how long any American has spent in Canada.
At this point, the Entry/Exit tracking system is only in a pilot stage and has been restricted to tracking third country nationals and permanent residents of either country. But ultimately, the Exit/Entry system is intended to track and monitor all border crossings, including those of Canadian and U.S. citizens.
According to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), “This exchange will help better manage immigration program and border management…as it is important for Canada and the United States to determine when individuals enter and depart our respective countries.”
The first phase of the Entry/Exist program was tested from September 2012 to January 2013 at four major border crossing points: Pacific Highway and Douglas (Peace Arch), both in Surrey, BC; The Queenston-Lewiston Bridge (Niagara-on-the-Lake); and the Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls.
Only biographic (not biometric—fingerprints or eye scans) data was collected and exchanged between CBSA and Homeland Security. This included the first name of the traveller, middle name, last name, date of birth, nationality, gender, document type (e.g. passport or Nexus), document number and country of issuance, work location code/port of entry codes, date and time of entry.
According to CBSA, “The results (of the test) significantly exceeded expectations in terms of the ability to reconcile entry/exit records: Canada reconciled 94.5 percent of all records received from the US, while the U.S. reconciled 97.4 percent of records sent from Canada.”
In its report on the initial trial, CBSA noted: “Canada and the United States ensured that biographic entry data transmitted between the two countries was done in a secure manner. Once received by Canada, the U.S. entry records were reconciled with the Canadian passage history system through the use of data analysis tools. Once Canadian records were received by the United States, they were stored in the Border Crossing information system and reconciled against United States traveller data stored in the Arrival/Departure Information System (ADIS).”
CBSA reports that information drawn from the early tests will be used only for statistical analysis and learning purposes, and will then be destroyed. There will be no enforcement action as a result of any of the test findings to date.
In a published newspaper report, assistant secretary for policy at Homeland Security, David Heyman, lauded results of the phase one pilot: “We have the ability now to identify, with a high degree of certainty, on a real time basis, those who overstay the terms of their legal entry into the United States.”
On July 3, 2013, phase two of the pilot program was implemented, expanding the exchange of biographic entry data to permanent residents of Canada who are not U.S. citizens, and lawful permanent residents of the U.S. who are not Canadian citizens.
Phase three of the program (tracking everyone who crosses the border—including Canadian and American citizens) is scheduled for June 30, 2014.
In the meantime, both governments are evaluating the cost and individual privacy impacts of the data sharing system.