Air Canada temperature checks raise privacy concerns, experts say


Air Canada's plan to introduce mandatory temperature checks for all passengers to screen for COVID-19 cases is meant to assure Canadians it's safe to fly again — but the policy raises privacy concerns, legal and privacy analysts say. 

Privacy experts warn it could breach privacy laws to ask for such sensitive personal information if it's unnecessary and not evidence-based.

Canada's top doctor has said temperature testing is "not effective at all" for identifying people who have COVID-19. The government also doesn't require airlines to conduct this new screening measure.

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's former information and privacy commissioner, calls Air Canada's move to become the first airline in North America to roll out these mandatory temperature checks "ridiculous."

"It's so outrageous what they're doing," said Cavoukian, who added she fears it's an optics measure meant to make people feel more comfortable about getting back on planes. 

"If I was commissioner, I would really clamp down hard and say to Air Canada, 'What authorization do you have to collect personal information?'"

After Air Canada posted a billion-dollar loss during the initial phase of the pandemic, the hard-hit carrier is focusing on the relaunch of the industry, scheduled for June, and ensuring it's safe for the public to get back on planes. The airline said it's required by law to monitor the fitness of travellers during the pandemic and the temperature tests are an additional layer of screening that fulfils its obligations.

"We recognize that a person's temperature alone cannot be used to determine COVID-19, however, we view temperature readings as a measure to help us meet the government requirement to be vigilant for potential cases," Air Canada said in a statement to CBC News.