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So you want to go to Canada, eh? Well, you might get turned away at the border if you have any criminal convictions in your past. Even ones from 20 or 30 years ago. Even minor crimes. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Or ask the well-to-do East Bay couple who flew to British Columbia this month for an eight-day ski vacation at the famed Whistler Chateau, where rooms run to $500 a night. They’d made the trip many times, but were surprised at the border to be told that the husband would have to report to “secondary” immigration.

There, in a room he estimates was filled with 60 other concerned travelers, he was told he was “a person who was inadmissible to Canada.” The problem? A conviction for marijuana possession.

In 1975.

Welcome to the new world of border security. Unsuspecting Americans are turning up at the Canadian border expecting clear sailing, only to find that their past — sometimes their distant past — is suddenly an issue.

While Canada officially has barred travelers convicted of criminal offenses for years, attorneys say post-9/11 information-gathering, combined with a sweeping agreement between Canada and the United States to share data, has resulted in a spike in phone calls from concerned travelers.

They are shocked to hear that the sins of their youth might keep them out of Canada. But what they don’t know is that this is just the beginning. Soon other nations will be able to look into your past when you want to travel there.

Over at MSNBC, journalist Bob Sullivan writes about the way data brokers are gathering information about people’s criminal histories:

Getting criminal records expunged from court records is often easy. Multiple programs allow convicts to clear their names after proving they’ve cleaned up their act. But clearing the digital mess left behind can be much harder, she said. Commercial background database vendors gobble up criminal records, but many are not nearly as efficient at deleting records that have been expunged by the court system, she said.

“These databases take a snapshot of someone’s record, then put it out in perpetuity,” she said. “There’s little oversight of the databases, and even less interest in updating people’s information in them.”

The law currently provides little regulation of the collection and use of prior criminal record information. Increasingly, it is being used to brand people for life, limiting their ability to get jobs or to travel outside the United States. The MSNBC article continues, with a quote from me:

Congress planned for this very problem long ago, Solove said, and in the 1970s enacted limitations on reporting of criminal records for employment background purposes. The Fair Credit Reporting Act forbids listing of most felonies on employment background reports after seven years from the end of the sentence.

Most states also recognize the problem of perpetual felony records, and offer various processes to give reformed criminals a chance at a clean slate, he said. But crime databases can make that largely impossible. While federal law limits the time criminal records can be revealed to future employers, no law limits the access members of the general public can have. Your new neighbor can pay $50 to Intelius and see your criminal past at any time, reaching as far back as your teen-age years.

“Increasingly convictions are really becoming these permanent anchors preventing people from basically starting anew … data forever affixed to someone’s identity like a digital scarlet letter,” Solove said.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. . . .

So will we see more countries like Canada obtain people’s criminal histories and start turning them away? Will people with a criminal record be able to travel anywhere in the future? Is this just a good security practice or overkill?

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

If you are interested in privacy and data security issues, there are many great ways Professor Solove can help you stay informed:
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