Quebec resident refuses to give up phone password during a customs search

Alain Philippon, a Quebec resident returning from a holiday in the Dominican Republic, was charged with obstructing customs officers from performing their functions, under section 153.1(b) of the Customs Act. The reason? He refused to give up his smart phone password as part of the customs search. He could now be facing a maximum fine of $25,000 and up to 1 year in jail.

According to Robert Currie, a professor at Dalhousie, this event raises a new issue that has yet to be litigated in court. Legally, a person is required to comply with a customs search, but does that extend to assisting (ie giving up your personal phone password) customs officers in the search?

Besides this event being the start of an interesting debate on privacy and border control, the consequences that Mr Philippon is facing for his refusal extend far beyond a fine and a jail sentence, if he is found guilty for obstruction of justice. Having a criminal record would not only hinder him in Canada, but could also cause him problems when applying for entry at the US border. A criminal record could mean having to apply for a US Entry Waiver. He will appear in court on May 12th for election and plea, and has stated he intends to fight the charge.

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