Air Canada temperature checks raise privacy concerns, experts say

Air Canada's plan to introduce mandatory COVID-19 temperature checks to all passengers to help ensure Canadians are safe from returning to heaven raises privacy concerns, legal and privacy analysts say.

Privacy experts warn that it could violate privacy laws to request this sensitive personal information, if unnecessary and not based on evidence.


Canada's top doctor said the temperature test "is not effective" to identify people who have COVID-19. Nor does the government require airlines to carry out this new screening measure.

Ann Cavoukian, a former Ontario information and privacy commissioner, says the move by Air Canada to become the first airline in North America to launch these mandatory temperature checks is "ridiculous".

"It's so outrageous what they are doing," said Cavoukian, concerned that it is a quick fix – just for the optics – to make people feel psychologically more comfortable returning to the planes.


"If I were a commissioner, would I really control myself and tell Air Canada what authorization do you have to collect personal information?"

An airport official checks the temperature of a Romanian seasonal worker outside Avram Iancu international airport in Cluj, central Romania, on April 9, 2020. (Raul Stef / Associated Press)

After Air Canada recorded a loss of billions of dollars during the initial phase of the pandemic, the airline most affected is focusing on the industry's relaunch, scheduled for June, and ensuring that it is safe for the public to return to planes. The airline said it is required by law to monitor the fitness of travelers during the pandemic and temperature tests are an additional layer of screening that fulfills its obligations.

"We recognize that a person's temperature alone cannot be used to determine COVID-19, however, we see temperature readings as a measure to help us meet the government's requirement to be vigilant in potential cases," said the Air Canada in a statement to CBC News. .

& # 39; Temperature taking is not effective & # 39;

The Transport Minister's office said it has no plans to make testing mandatory or to recommend that other carriers follow suit.

On the same day, Air Canada announced its new measures, Canada's director of public health, Dr. Theresa Tam, said the temperature test is ineffective to detect people with the virus.


"The more you really understand the virus, the more you start to know that taking a temperature is not effective," said Tam on May 4. "Even if you're infected, we know that the likelihood of catching someone who is symptomatic is kind of relatively inefficient."


People can mask their fever with drugs and, in many cases, are completely asymptomatic, she said during the pandemic.

«Additional security screening layer»

As of May 15, Air Canada's customer service agents will receive both personal protective equipment from head to toe and a front-line employee at a hospital, according to the union. They will be asked to hover a handheld device five centimeters from customers' foreheads, probably before going through security, said Unifor.

The device uses an infrared beam to capture a person's temperature in seconds. If a customer has a temperature above 37.6 degrees Celsius, Air Canada said it can consult a medical specialist and then decide whether to withdraw it.

Air Canada's customer service agents will receive personal protective equipment from head to toe and will use a handheld device to check passengers' temperatures before screening. The exact location at the airports is still being worked out, the union said. (Simon Gohier / CBC News)

Air Canada said the checks are part of a multilayered approach taken to minimize the risk of the virus.

"Temperature checks are an additional layer of security screening, as fever is a common symptom of COVID-19," said Air Canada. "While the percentage of customers we expect to detect at elevated temperatures and COVID-19 may be small, this measure improves overall security."

Other measures include additional physical distance on board, cleaning and disinfection, contact tracking and specific measures for workers, including the use of personal protective equipment. Transport Canada has also made it mandatory for passengers to wear face masks or covers on airplanes and airports where they cannot physically distance themselves from others.

"I think it will be a violation of the privacy law"

Ottawa human rights lawyer Paul Champ believes the temperature test may conflict with Canada's privacy laws.

Under the Canadian Personal Information and Electronic Documents Protection Act, companies may only collect, use or share personal information with significant consent and for purposes considered reasonable in these circumstances.

"It must be necessary and it must be proportionate, so with all the evidence we know about the ineffectiveness of temperature in detecting someone with COVID-19, I think it will be a violation of the privacy law," said Champ.

WATCH A human rights lawyer explains why temperature tests are controversial:

If the real reason Air Canada is doing temperature checks is to give passengers a false sense of comfort for passengers who will not be flying if the privacy commissioner investigates, says the lawyer 0:36

"If the real reason they're testing temperatures is to give passengers a false sense of comfort, well, that just won't be approved if the privacy commissioner investigates."

Guidance for companies

Canada privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien has received no complaints about Air Canada's tests or has examined the company's plan in detail. But his office has issued two documents since the start of the pandemic to help guide companies subject to federal privacy laws.

Any measures launched by companies to address COVID-19 that may impact Canadians' privacy must be based on evidence and follow the guidance of public health officials, according to the commissioner's office.

"Temperature checks involve the collection of sensitive personal information," said Therrien in a statement to CBC News. "Therefore, we hope that any organization that launches this initiative will ensure that it is necessary, proportionate and in line with the direction and guidance of public health authorities."

Air Canada said the test is "in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations" and has the ability to consult a medical specialist if there are concerns about whether a customer is well enough to travel.

Concerns about where the data might end up

Cavoukian and Champ also have serious concerns about where Canadians' personal data might end up.

Air Canada said that portable devices used to measure people's temperature "do not collect or store identifying information" and that "there is no record of temperature data" at all.

Cavoukian disputes the airline's claim, arguing that he would need to track the data using his name, Aeroplan number or some other identifier in case lawsuits are initiated over false positive or false negative tests. The fact that customers who leave the airport need medical clearance before they return suggests that Air Canada must be documenting the cases somewhere, she said.

"It is highly unlikely that there is absolutely no record of this," said Cavoukian. "I would bet that my lowest dollar will have a record associated with your body temperature."

Champ asks if it is stored in a database of some kind.

"Will it be shared with others?" he said. "Will it be the next time someone flies? These are deeply personal issues that people may not want to disclose."

CLOCK A union representative says that other airlines are doing temperature checks:

Unifor's airline director, Leslie Dias, says Air Canada is not the only airline that performs temperature checks for COVID-19; other countries around the world as well. 0:35

& # 39; It is better to be prudent & # 39;

The union representing Air Canada's customer service agents who will be conducting the tests supports the new screening tool to help the industry recover and get the team back to work.

Unifor's aviation sector director, Leslie Dias, points to other countries in Asia and Europe that already carry out temperature checks at airports.

Frontier Airlines in the U.S. announced that it plans to start testing in June. A major American commercial organization, Airlines for America, announced on Saturday that it wants the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to begin conducting temperature checks to help relaunch air travel and the economy. The group represents major airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Soutwest Airlines, and said the checks are an additional protection attorney.

Emirates, Dubai's airline, went even further and, in April, began conducting rapid COVID-19 blood tests on passengers before flights.

I don't know why Canadians' privacy is more important than passenger privacy in Europe, Asia and so on.– Leslie Dias

"I don't know why Canadians' privacy is more important than passenger privacy in Europe, Asia and so on," said Dias.

"I think it's best to be prudent and do what you can," she said. "It may not be a perfect system. It will not detect everything. But it is a method that can be used and provides some more guarantee that we can do things as safely as possible."

The union representing the flight attendants, CUPE, said the test would help put employees at ease about their own safety.

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