A Senate bill that would have allowed Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) agents to examine the contents of traveller’s smartphones, laptops and other devices under the threshold of “reasonable general concern” has been voted down by the national security and defence committee.

Bill S-7 would have amended the Customs Act, lowering the circumstances under which CBSA officials could search personal digital devices. 

According to Blacklock’s Reporter, senators on the committee passed an amendment proposed by Senator Mobina Jaffer to replace the proposed new standard with “reasonable grounds to suspect,” which would still make it easier to search travellers’ devices than it is now. Though, not as permissive as the standard proposed by the Public Safety Minister. 

“We did not have one witness except the minister and the officials say that the new standard was a good idea,” said Jaffer Monday. 

Senator Marc Gold, who represented the government in the Senate, opposed the amendment as well. Gold told the National Post that the bill doesn’t lower the standard, but is actually “creating a legal standard where one never existed before.”

Previously, the committee heard from law experts who said that the new “reasonable general concern” threshold was unknown in Canadian law. Lex Gill, a research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, told senators that the new standard would amount to a “fishing expedition.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has said that the new threshold would have been “very low, and legally novel” and would not adequately protect travellers’ privacy from border agents.

While the committee has finished its study, the bill will head back to the Senate to decide whether to accept the committee’s recommendations that the new standard of “reasonable general concern” is too lenient. After that, the bill will go to the House of Commons.

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