Airport Screening and Surveillance in Canada

Apart from short-term responses to some notorious hijackings over the past 30 years, airport security was never a topic that engaged the public imagination in Canada (or elsewhere, for that matter). The aftermath of 9/11 changed that, such that on almost any given day one can find some reference to new measures in the daily newspaper. But public perceptions are not the whole story. It is important to place the post-9/11 developments in a broader frame and to see them as part of a long-term trend and against the background of the emergence of asurveillance society and a safety state. The contributions of history and sociology are needed as never before to help contextualize these crucial developments.

What has occurred in Canada, with respect to the upgrading of security provision, is not unlike what has happened in other parts of theworld. But the geographical proximity of Canada to the United States, and the extent of trading partnerships between the two, does make the Canadian case particularly interesting. The United States has a number of reasons for trying to ensure that Canadian airports are secure, just as it had reasons for wanting Canada to join in closing NorthAmerican airspace on 11 September 2001, following the attacks on NewYork and Washington. So to focus on the Canadian case is to ask whatis happening in one of the United States' geographically closest neighbours, as a case study of the widespread wave effect created by the9/11 attacks.

This article is concerned with three issues: (1) the kinds of airport security that have developed in Canada since 9/11, looking on theone hand at passenger checks through the Passenger Name Record (PNR)program and on the other at the screening now carried out by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA); (2) some key issues raised by these developments; and (3) how these relate to processes that were already in train long before 9/11: the emergence of remote, automated surveillance aimed at pre-empting certain behaviours by sorting between different social groups such that they can be treated differently.

This brief article argues that the post-9/11 upgrading of securityand intensification of surveillance (Ball and Webster 2003) is best understood not merely as a contingent response to a perceived crisis--an unprecedented attack on North American soil--but as a rational expansion of already existing measures, practices, and processes. The basic line of argument is that the responses to 9/11 in Canada, as in the United States but on a smaller scale, confirm the existence of certain significant social, political, economic, and cultural trends toward a "surveillance society" and a "safety state." If this is so, then it is all the more incumbent on analysts and policy makers alike to come to terms with the implications of these trends and to address not only the perceived "crises of security" but also their accompanying legal and cultural ramifications, their modifications to previously accepted practices, and their ethical and political challenges.

Canada against terrorism: 9/11 and after

You do not have to have been flying, as I was, on the morning of 11 September 2001 to appreciate why so much effort has since been expended on attempting to tighten airport security. If airports were apparently so vulnerable as places from which to launch such spectacular attacks, then they seemed like the first priority for new security initiatives. Regardless of how reliable the logic of this conclusion, airports around the world have responded in just this fashion, and Canadian airports are no exception.

The Anti-Terrorism Plan in Canada, developed in the wake of 9/11, was intended to keep the Canada-U.S. border secure and open to legitimate trade; increase front-end screening for refugee claimants; improve both detention and deportation processes; increase security staff hiring; and upgrade technology, integration, and training practices. (2) In fact, Canada had been pressing for a "smart border" agreement for some time, but 9/11 seemed to offer the vital opportunity. The "border" issues include both geographical border control sites and artificial ones such as airports. Almost immediately after 9/11, armed undercover police officers and state-of-the-art explosives detection systems (the cost of which was quoted as CDN$55.7 million) were introduced. In the expectation that passengers would have to pay some of thebill for this, a $12-per-flight charge was levied at first, then reduced to $7 in 2003. Other initiatives included technical improvementssuch as replacing cockpit doors and locking them from take-off to landing (May 2003) and installing $4-million "dirty bomb" detectors in Ottawa's airport (November 2004).

One significant border initiative that accentuates the reliance onnew technologies is the Advanced Passenger Information/Passenger Name Record program (API/PNR). Under provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that came into force in 2002, commercial carriers are required to provide Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) with passenger and crew information for analysis, so that any who appear to pose concerns may be identified and intercepted. Such data include five elements: full legal name, gender, date of birth, nationality, and travel document number. In a novel move, airlines must provideCIC with such passenger and crew data before they arrive in Canada. Under joint Canada-U.S. agreements, various means such as CANPASS Air(the Canada-U.S. harmonized, iris-scan-dependent, NEXUS Air scheme) have been implemented (November 2004) to expedite the travel of "approved, low-risk travellers."

Another initiative, involving both technical and personnel skills,also followed the 9/11 attacks. The CATSA was created as a crown corporation in April 2002, initially with four training centres to teacheffective pre-board screening to 3,000 new security personnel. By 2003 CATSA began building comprehensive data sets of all travellers, plus 4,000 employees from all 89 Canadian airports, in order to compiledata reports. The idea was to improve seasonal travel warnings as well as to identify gaps in security training if a particular type of incident occurs more often in one airport than in others.

Despite these apparently stringent improvements, critical questions have been raised (in Canada as in the United States and elsewhere) about the adequacy of the new measures. In December 2004 the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence reported on inadequate mailand cargo screening, unsatisfactory background checks on airport personnel, a lack of control over access to restricted areas, and insufficient training of part-time customs staff (Kenny 2004: ch. 7). And in March 2005 Canada's Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, reported on laxPassport Office practices, including inadequate watch lists, outdated technology, and poor record checking to verify identification. Fraser argued that computer links were not in place to flag applicants ineligible for passports because they are on parole or charged with serious crimes. She also expressed concerns about passenger and baggage screening. Also in 2005, a Senate report entitled Borderline Insecureargued that security is inadequate and should be the priority on borders (Kenny 2005). There is scope for much urgently needed independent research to check these and other findings.

Key issues in border security

The conundrum facing those charged with airport security in a globalizing era is that of keeping airports as open as possible to legitimate travellers and as closed as possible to illegitimate ones. Economic globalization, as currently practised, depends upon the liberalization of trade and the reduction of all kinds of barriers to the flowof goods, persons, information, and other entities. But just such economic globalization carries with it other kinds of flows--of cultural ideas and practices, identifies and conflicts, often embodied in persons, but also in documents, Web sites associated with terrorism, orimages--that may be regarded as potential sources of threat, such that reducing free flows by policing those borders seems warranted (Zureik and Salter 2005).

The Canadian government, recognizing this, has taken a number of steps to try to increase the efficiency of passage of persons and goods across borders while at the same time making the borders more secure. The United States, after all, accounts for 87% of Canada's foreignsales, and almost 40% of Canada's gross domestic product (GPD) is accounted for by exports to the United States. Equally, Canada is the leading market for 38 American states; after China and Canada itself, Ontario alone would count as the United States' fourth-largest trading partner. Around $475 billion worth of goods cross the border annually, and 300,000 persons cross it daily.

But Canada is more dependent on the United States than vice versa and must acknowledge, however reluctantly, the fact that "security trumps economy" in the United States (Hornbarger 2005). According to liberalizing economic policies, it is strongly in Canada's economic interest to maintain the free flow of goods south of the border, but various American initiatives, such as the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (2002) in effect from 2005, could slow the border-crossing process even further. (3) This act requires American authorities to keep records on everyone entering and leaving the United States. As David Haglund (2003) suggests, far from the anticipated "Canadianization" of America's southern border, a partial "Mexicanization" of its northern border seems to be occurring.

Indeed, for those who hoped for further integration between the economies of North America, 9/11 does seem to represent something of a setback. As Peter Andreas argues, "border controls are being retooledand redesigned as part of a new and expanding 'war on terrorism'" (2003: 7). Whereas trade and migration used to be the key priorities for border controls, these are now, he says, "inescapably evaluated through a security lens" (2003: 7). The responses to 9/11 are the proximate cause of this situation, but the particular nature of the responses chosen (4) refers back to the rise of the surveillance society andthe safety state.

Surveillance society and safety state

The broader context within which post-9/11 airport security must be understood includes some pronounced social, economic, and politicaltrends dating back to the 1970s, in particular. On the one hand is the emergence of what may justifiably be called the surveillance society (Lyon 2001) and on the other is the advent of what Charles Raab (2005) calls the safety state (my comments on the latter owe much to Raab's insights). The two phenomena are closely connected and feed off each other.

Although the practices of surveillance are as old as human historyitself, modernity gave a strong boost to the routine and pervasive processes of surveillance through bureaucratic organization and the keeping of files in governmental, workplace, and criminal-justice contexts. Beginning in the 1970s, however, these were massively augmented by the introduction of computing machinery and electronic communications. These technologies would eventually make possible both the creation of finer-grained files than would ever be available in paper-based documentation and also huge searchable storage space in databases, as well as the widespread potential and actual integration of personal data from quite different sources. This has been seen as an increasingly important technical and political goal. At the same time, it means that considerable pressure is exerted by high-tech companies on any entity that would reinforce its borders, a pressure that is only increased by the argument that a spin-off of greater security is support to local technology enterprises (see, e.g., OECD 2004).

Surveillance may be defined, at least in the twenty-first century and for present purposes, as a routine and focused attention to personal details for the purposes of influence, management, care, and control. While this process once had a bureaucratic basis, a pronounced shift towards the use of computer systems for administrative purposes from the 1970s onward means that today, surveillance in every field from marketing and commerce to criminal justice to government administration to health care and education is assisted by information technology. More specifically, it means that searchable databases are used,along with far-reaching communications networks, to obtain, store, retrieve, classify, and concatenate personal data. Even where databases are less prominent, as with closed-circuit television (CCTV, or "video surveillance"), the above surveillance definition holds, and, insofar as facial recognition systems and the like are implemented, databases will become increasingly implicated.

These circumstances may appear to fulfil the worst fears of those who indulge in fantasies about "Orwellian" scenarios of centralized control by totalitarian governments, but what actually occurs is far more complex and subtle. While totalitarian concerns are not entirely misplaced in some contexts, much more helpful are the kinds of sociological arguments centring on the notion of "governance" (see, e.g., Rose 1999). The term "governance" refers generally to modes of governing populations, whether or not the state is involved, and thus may beused to help explore all kinds of power relations. In the case of the post-9/11 United States, of course, governance may been seen at several related levels as, for example, employers perform "security checks" on potential employees and neighbourhood-watch schemes expand to include suspicious behaviours of people of "Middle Eastern" appearance within their regimes of vigilance. Thus social and economic sectorsnot conventionally considered as agencies of the nation-state may engage in forms of governance congruent with current demands of the state. But governance--which draws routinely on surveillance knowledge--need not necessarily be directed by the nation-state.

Since 9/11 it has become much clearer how certain kinds of surveillance activity contribute to governance. The commercial surveillance practised by airline companies and travel agents, using PNR and also sources of more detailed data such as frequent-flyer programs, may beused to channel the choices and influence the life chances of travellers-as-consumers. Records of consumer behaviours are much sought after by marketers eager to target advertising and manage future preferences and purchases, as well as to privilege those behaviours profitable to the corporations concerned and discard those whose profitability is minimal. (5) However, the commercial data in which they and others routinely trade has also become useful for state surveillance purposes. After 9/11, not only consumer data from airline passengers as such but also data relating to consumption of many kinds of commodities, from gasoline to motels to convenience-store goods, immediately became of interest to criminal justice and intelligence personnel. Furthermore, the ways in which marketing surveillance is conducted, usingtechniques such as customer relationship management and based on data mining, were immediately sought by the Department of Homeland Security in its attempt to piece together after the fact how the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated.

The key practice here is that of producing coded categories through which persons and groups of persons may be sorted (Cayhan 2005; Lyon 2003b). If personal data can be extracted, combined, and extrapolated in order to create profiles of potential consumers for targeted marketing purposes, then, by a similar logic, such data can be similarly processed in order to identify and isolate groups and persons that may be thought of as potential perpetrators of "terrorist" acts. Such"social sorting" has become a standard way of discriminating betweendifferent persons and groups for the purposes of providing differential treatment (whether this is encouraging certain classes of consumer to believe that they are eligible for certain exclusive benefits, for example, through club registration and membership, or facilitatingor restricting traffic flow though airports by reference to watch lists and PNR data). (6) This means, in turn, that discourses of "privacy" have less and less salience for the kinds of social and politicalissues raised by such practices. For "social sorting" practices (along with the questions they raise, such as equality of treatment, due process, and the presumption of innocence; see Heyman 2001) may occurwith privacy policies and regulations fully in place. (7)

If the rise of the surveillance society is one crucial background phenomenon to current airport screening and security regimes, the rise of the safety state is the other. Like the concept of the surveillance society, the term alerts us to certain key characteristics of some processes, events, and activities visible in contemporary modes of governing. The safety state is not necessarily the overriding featureof governing, but it has achieved such prominence that thinking of current trends in a number of countries through this lens is worthwhile. It is a heuristic device or problematique, a rudimentary means of organizing a field of study. It is equivalent to thinking of the "welfare state," and, indeed, one can argue that the "safety state" is steadily displacing, if not replacing, that way of conceiving state activity.

Safety seems to have been progressively elevated, over the past generation, to a desirable condition of numerous situations, institutions, and organizations. It motivates decision making in a wide range of domains. It relates closely, of course, to what Ulrich Beck (1992) and others have called the "risk society" (see, e.g., Ericson and Haggerty 1997). Safety simply represents the positive goal of policy in the risk society: to avert risk in the cause of increased safety. Thus, while well-being may still be defined, in some contexts, in economic (universal opportunities) or welfare (universal benefits for basicneeds) terms, well-being is also increasingly defined as safety or security. As a result, the "safety state" may attempt both to ensure safety at a number of levels and to legitimate and rationalize other policies in the name of safety and security. Thus, after 9/11, variouspolicies and even laws concerning matters such as privacy and confidentiality have been overridden by the concern with "national security."

As Raab suggests, the safety state is no longer concerned with counteracting the effects of the unequal society; rather, its concern isto grapple with the unsafe. No longer does a quest for the good or even the best galvanize government; rather, the more modest aim is to prevent the bad or the worst. Beyond this, the question of who may beprotected, and who may not, is one of the unequal distribution of safety. This may be linked, in turn, with rising levels of public fear and anxiety. And, as Lucia Zedner observes elsewhere in this issue, "The security industry intends to persuade [the public] to be assured while at the same time trying to maximize people's fears. Security isa means to freedom, but unless you feel insecure you will not feel free" (2006: 101-112). Such anxieties need not be squeezed into the conceptual frame of a generalized "culture" of fear, but at least thereis a recognition that various cultures of fear are multiplying (Tudor 2003). On the policy side, new issues are raised of the definition and measurement of risk and safety, issues with which perhaps the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must grapple most profoundly.

Cultures of fear and cultures of suspicion tend to be mutually reinforcing. Fear and anxiety produce responses from the cautious to theparanoid, and when these are associated with policies that clearly favour some groups ("trusted travellers") and disadvantage others (people of "Middle Eastern" appearance), then it makes sense to talk of emerging cultures of suspicion. An intensification of surveillance will likely produce more generalized suspicion, something that has been patently obvious since 9/11 (Lyon 2003a). Although suspicion is the currency of surveillance and tends to relate to specific categories ofpersons (Marx 1988), when hotlines and tip-off schemes abound, thosemore discrete forms of suspicion can become more general. In Canada,such cultures of suspicion may well deepen if the August 2005 proposal to implement "no-fly" lists for airline passengers, is adopted. The plan is to use data-matching software to allow the RCMP and CSIS tocompare passenger data to information on their databases, under the provisions of the Public Safety Act 2002 (see TC and DPS 2005).

Perception of a threat is a key issue. Many passengers have fears about airport security technology, especially when it involves overt reliance on figures such as armed military personnel, but others assume that a "security-convenience" trade-off has to be made and will put up with delays, believing that they are the safer as a result. Several studies have shown that the very presence of security technology provides a great sense of security and comfort. How far is it morallyacceptable, one might inquire, to use techniques that reassure the public but are not in fact reliable?


A number of conclusions may be drawn from this brief survey of Canadian security responses to 9/11. First, while the economic interdependence of Canada and the United States continues to be viewed as an important and desirable factor, it seems that Canadian policy will at least attempt to respond to American demands for increased border security, including that at airports. The difficulties of maintaining anindependent approach while at the same time acknowledging the profound economic interdependence of the two countries and the relative advantages held by the United States are likely to guide security developments for some time to come.

Second, the role of high-tech companies, on the one hand, and independent researchers (in both technology and policy fields), on the other, requires some clarification. At present, the twin motivations for using high-tech methods for increasing security--that this both provides state-of-the-art surveillance and border control mechanisms andhelps to stimulate local economies--is strong but suspect. Many novel techniques (such as those involving biometric technologies, for instance; see Zureik and Hindle 2004) are insufficiently tested and, in particular, have not had adequate scrutiny from independent researchers.

Third, in the rush to upgrade security by technological means, much is left to be desired in the upgrading and training of security personnel. True, in the Canadian case, new bodies such as CATSA have engaged in serious (re)training programs, but it is hard to deny that the overwhelming emphasis since 9/11 has been on technical rather than skilled human contributions to improved security (see, e.g., Schneier2004). Such skilled human contributions are vital to a workable and publicly acceptable security regime and may, in fact, help to producethe very specific results (apprehending genuine cases of persons with terrorist intent attempting to cross borders) in ways more conducive to the maintenance of civil liberties that what is currently occurring.

Fourth, if, as I have argued, airport (and other) security-enhancing responses to 9/11 are not the novel and unprecedented activities that some appear to think they are, then it is important to consider how they may be explained historically and sociologically (see, e.g., Torpey 2000). The case made in summary form here--that they represent, rather, an acceleration and an intensification of already-existing approaches to risk management and security--suggests that urgent attention be directed to the broader issues of the growth of the surveillance society and the safety state. The spread of categorical suspicion, the integration of databases that process personal data, the augmentation of the means of social sorting according to underscrutinized codes, and the reliance on automated forms of identification and verification--alongside the increasing magnification and elevation of security and safety as national and international policy priorities--allthese deserve further research and intelligent public-policy debate.


Andreas, Peter 2003 A tale of two borders: The US-Mexico and US-Canada lines after 9/11. In Peter Andreas and Thomas Biersteker (eds.),The Rebordering of North America: Integration and Exclusion in a NewSecurity Context. New York: Routledge.

Ball, Kirstie S. and Frank Webster, eds. 2003 The Intensification of Surveillance: Crime, Terrorism and Warfare in the Information Age.London: Pluto.

Beck, Ulrich 1992 The Risk Society. London: Sage.

Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade [DFAIT] 2003 Backgrounder: Canada's Actions against Terrorism since September 11. http: // canadaactions-en.asp

Cayhan, Ayse 2005 Policing by dossier: Identification and surveillance in an era of uncertainty and fear. In Didier Bigo and Elspeth Guild (eds.), Controlling Frontiers: Free Movement Into and Within Europe. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate.

Danna, Anthony and Oscar H. Gandy 2002 All that glitters is not gold: Digging beneath the surface of data mining. Journal of Business Ethics 40: 373-386.

Ericson, Richard V. and Kevin Haggerty 1997 Policing the Risk Society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Fraser, Sheila 2005 Passport office / passport services. In Reportof the Auditor General of Canada, April 2005. Ottawa: Auditor General. http://

Haglund, David 2003 North American cooperation in an era of homeland security. Orbis 47: 677-683.

Heyman, J. 2001 Class and classification on the US-Mexico border. Human Organization 60(2): 128-140.

Hornbarger, Chris 2005 US Homeland Security imperatives and their impact on Canada. Paper presented at the National Foreign Policy Conference, Countering Terrorism, Enhancing Security: Shared Canada-US Approaches?, Canadian Institute for International Affairs, Halifax, NS,March.

Kenny, Colin, chair 2004 Canadian Security Guide Book, 2005 Edition: An Update of Security Problems in Search of Solutions. Ottawa: Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence.

Kenny, Colin, chair 2005 Borderline Insecure: Canada's Land BorderCrossings are Key to Canada's Security and Prosperity. Why the Lack of Urgency to Fix Them? What Will Happen If We Don't? Interim Report.Ottawa: Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. http:// rep-e/repintjun05-e.pdf

Lyon, David 2001 Surveillance Society: Monitoring Everyday Life. Oxford: Open University Press.

Lyon, David 2003a Surveillance after September 11. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Lyon, David, ed. 2003b Surveillance as Social Sorting. London: Routledge.

Marx, Gary T. 1988 Undercover: Police Surveillance in America. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], ed.2004 The Security Economy. Paris: OECD.

Pridmore, Jason and David Lyon 2005 Customer Relationship Management as Surveillance. Unpublished manuscript.

Raab, Charles 2005 Governing the safety state. Inaugural lecture at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, June.

Rose, Nikolas S. 1999 Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schneier, Bruce 2004 Counter-terrorism in airports. Crypto-Gram Newsletter, May 15.

Torpey, John 2000 The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Transport Canada [TC] and Department of Public Safety [DPS] 2005, 5 August News release. GC No. 009/05.

Tudor, Andrew 2003 A (macro) sociology of fear? Sociological Review 51: 238-256.

Zedner, Lucia 2006 Neither safe nor sound? The perils and possibilities of risk. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 48: 101-112.

Zureik, Elia with Karen Hindle 2004 Governance, security and technology: The case for biometrics. Studies in Political Economy 73: 113-137.

Zureik, Elia and Mark Salter, eds. 2005 Global Surveillance and Policing: Borders, Identity, Security. Cullompton, U.K.: Willan Publishing.

Legislation cited

Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-173, 116 Stat. 543 (2002)

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, R.S.C. 2001, c. 27, ss. 148-150

Public Safety Act, 2002, R.S.C. 2004, c. 15


(1.) I am grateful to Charles Raab and Mark Salter for comments onan earlier draft of this article.

(2.) See Canada, DFAIT (2003).

(3.) Recent data on border crossings may be found on the Web site of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics at international/border_crossing_entry_data/us_canada/index.html

(4.) One might ask, for instance, why massive funding for educational and cultural exchanges with, or trade missions to, Middle Easterncountries were not proposed. Or, equally, why, given the perceived threats to borders, both geographical and virtual, the weight of responses was on upgrading technical capacities rather than the skills of security personnel. Speedy and short-term "solutions" appear to predominate.

(5.) This is achieved through data mining and related practices ofcustomer relationship management. See, e.g., Danna and Gandy 2002; Pridmore and Lyon 2005.

(6.) This begs the question of how far the algorithmic surveillance of either consumers or travellers is capable of indicating or predicting which records are significant. The point here is merely to notethat the methods are cognate and that the former informs the latter.

(7.) This is not meant as a slight to the "fair information practices" that underlie most data-protection and privacy-regulation regimes. Collection limitation and purpose specificity do speak to such social sorting. The problem is that they are hard to enforce and are frequently ignored.

David Lyon

Surveillance Project, Department of Sociology

Queen's University

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