OTTAWA — OTTAWA -- Canadian airlines are balking at a U.S. Department of Homeland Security plan that would require them to turn over information about passengers flying over the United States to another country.
The proposal, which appears at odds with Canada's privacy laws, would mostly involve Canadians who join the annual winter exodus to Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean. It is also viewed by the Canadian airline industry as a rejection of several costly measures already taken by the Canadian government to assuage U.S. concerns about air safety.
"I appreciate and respect United States citizens' concern for their safety and security," said Fred Gaspar, the vice president of policy and strategic planning for the Air Transport Association of Canada. "But we need to understand what the gap is they need to fix. The only thing you can come up with is very, very generic language about the need for ensuring security. This is pretty dramatically offside with Canadian privacy laws."
The proposal is part of a broad U.S. Transportation Security Administration plan known as the Secure Flight Program. In September, the agency released rules it hopes to impose when it takes over from the airlines the job of matching passenger names with terrorism watch lists and no-fly lists.
Christopher White, a spokesman for the TSA, said the agency's desire for a new program was not a negative comment on Canadian security measures. "We need a multi-layered approach," White said. "Any security system that relies on one process is a very vulnerable system."
In June, Canada put in effect its own no-fly list of potentially dangerous travelers. The Canadian program was developed after extensive consultation with the United States and came despite considerable criticism from some Canadian politicians and most privacy advocates.
Gaspar said that the Canadian airlines' understanding was that once Canada's program was under way, the only information they would have to give the United States would be about passengers headed to that country.
"Either the United States places no value whatsoever in the Canadian list, which it helped develop, or I have to suspect what's going on here is a pure and simple data-fishing exercise," Gaspar said.