The complainant objected to a conversation with a British Columbia Civil Liberties lawyer on the question of electronic device searches at the U.S. border.

By Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

The complainant, Sheldon Goldberg, objected to a conversation with a British Columbia Civil Liberties lawyer on the question of electronic device searches at the U.S. border. He thought she was unqualified to speak about American law and that CBC violated standards by allowing her to speak to the issue. The discussion was a broad look at options available to protect privacy on both sides of the border and did not violate policy.


You objected to an interview broadcast on On the Coast, the Vancouver afternoon news and current affairs programme. On February 17, guest host Belle Puri talked with Micheal Vonn, Policy Director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Union. The conversation centred around the increased scrutiny of electronic devices at the Canada-U.S. border. You considered this one more example of an ongoing anti-American slant to the programme. You were critical of the fact that Ms. Vonn commented on American law. You said she was Canadian and not qualified to speak about the complex security laws in the United States. The programme should have interviewed an American instead. You said:

The problem is that MV is a lawyer in Canada and BCCLA is a Society with a specific mandate. Their licence stops at the border. Your interviewer never asked her/their limits.

You added that the United States government had every right to protect itself in ways it saw fit, and it was not appropriate to be critical. You were also concerned that discussing this matter would benefit criminals:

Was she assisting terrorists or their fellow travellers how to avoid arrest and prosecution all under the fog of righteousness?

You were also critical because you thought Ms. Vonn stated she had lawyer-client privilege, and therefore the right to protect her own phone or other electronic device from scrutiny by a border official:

She now projects herself as an American lawyer or legal expert which she is not. America law is very complex whether at the border or Homeland Security or other security laws. I doubt whether she even knows any American law that would protect her data or other Canadian professionals seeking ‘privilege’ south of the border. And how would privilege apply to mixed data?


The Senior Director of Journalism and Programming, Lorna Haeber, replied to your complaint. She told you that this was a general discussion about the consequences of bringing phones, tablets and computers both ways across the Canada-United States border. She characterized it as “news you could use” and pointed out it was quite a general discussion of both Canadian and American law and procedure:

They were discussing laws in both Canada and the U.S. which allow custom agents to search electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops when they are being brought into the country. The issue was in the news because of a proposal being floated in the U.S. to make those searches routine.

Read this story on the CBC website, where it was first published.