Homeland Security declined to answer specific questions. But a spokesperson for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), the group that handles security checkpoints at Canadian airports, explained how their officers will carry out those measures.
That might mean letting a screening officer physically search through your bag, or swab your belongings for traces of explosive materials.
The difference now, according to CATSA spokesperson Mathieu Larocque, is that travellers might also be randomly selected to remove electronic devices larger than smartphones — think tablets and e-readers — from their carry-on baggage and present them for additional screening, too.
That would involve removing any protective casing around devices to allow for a more thorough physical inspection and proving to officers that the device can be turned on.
“All of the rest of the screening process remains the same,” Larocque said. Laptops will still have to be removed from bags and placed in bins individually as before.
Is the data on my device at risk?
No more than usual.
Refusal to unlock your device or give a U.S. border agent your password could deny you entry into the country. And while Canadian border officers can’t deny Canadian citizens entry into Canada, refusal to co-operate could result in the seizure of your device.
Security inspectors, on the other hand, are tasked with examining the physical integrity of the device itself — looking for signs that a tablet or laptop has been modified or tampered with, with the intent to cause harm.
“They’re not going to be looking at the content of the device,” said Larocque. “They’re not going to ask you to input your password or look at files. That’s not the intent.”
What should I expect at the airport?
Larocque says that all travellers — even those flying within Canada — should be prepared to have their devices examined. That means charging devices before arriving at the airport, and ensuring that protective cases can be easily removed, or even better, removed ahead of time.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because there was a time when screening officers could ask travellers to power on devices such as laptops, but Larocque said the practice was discontinued for several years — until now.
And don’t forget that airlines are advising travellers to get to the airport two hours before their scheduled flight to the U.S., to allow time for the screening.