The Vancouver International Airport is taking heat for rejecting advertisements advising passengers about their privacy rights.
The ads were commissioned by the digital rights non-profit Open Media and were meant to be posted at the YVR terminal of the Canada Line.
“They were large, bright ads with very simple text that said, ‘Your phone is not safe at the border,’ with a link to our website,” said Open Media executive director Laura Tribe.
Tribe said the ads were intended to ensure passengers were aware of their rights when they are in a border area, what they are legally required to do and what protections they are afforded.
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“There’s not a lot of information available to you once you find yourself in that scenario, so how can people be better prepared?” she said.
“The information on our phone is some of our most personal, sensitive information. But when you’re at a border, you have no more rights when it comes to your info on your phone than you do having your suitcase searched or a bag of T-shirts or pants.”
Tribe said the organization was given no reason for why the ads were rejected, nor any information on how they could change them to be accepted.
YVR officials would not agree to an on-camera interview but released a statement by email.
“In reviewing Open Media’s request to place advertising at the airport, we determined that it did not serve all of our stakeholders as we felt it pitted two groups against each other and it also has potential to add undue stress to the travel experience,” wrote spokesperson Brock Penner.
“Additionally, YVR aims to be non-political and Open Media’s borderprivacy.ca website promotes an online petition with a political call-to-action directed towards government officials.”
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“This is wrong on many levels. This is wrong because passengers should be aware of their rights and it’s wrong because it’s a form of censorship,” said Gabor Lukacs, founder of the group Air Passenger Rights.
Lukacs told Global News that Open Media would be well served to take the airport to court.
“My understanding is that airports are fulfilling, in practical terms, a government function, and as such, they would be subject to the Canadian charter,” he said.
“They cannot limit freedom of speech of what should or shouldn’t appear on their billboards.”
Lukacs said the airport appears to be trying to behave like a private corporation on one hand while acting on the interests of government on the other.
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It’s not the first time ads have stirred controversy at YVR.
Lukacs pointed to a situation last year where the airport rejected ads by a company called Flight Claim that helps passengers redeem compensation from airlines when they’ve been wronged, in exchange for a portion of the claim.
“The airport was colluding with airlines to keep passengers in the dark about their rights,” he said. “If passengers are well-informed, it means airlines will have to pay more, it means that passengers will demand their rights.”
Jacob Charboneau, CEO of Flight Claim told Global News that just as in Open Media’s case, the airport provided no clear reasoning on why the ads were rejected.
“They said we didn’t fit into the criteria but weren’t able to tell us at that point what were the criteria,” he said.
“YVR is one of the leading airports in Canada, so it was quite disappointing they didn’t want us to publicize the rights of passengers and make sure that those passengers know their rights and the compensation they’re allowed to have.”
Tribe said Open Media will continue to try to get its message out, but it remains concerned about the way the airport has handled the situation.
“For us, that raises a lot of concerns. This is information that’s in the public interest and very related to people’s safety travelling across borders,” she said.
“So if that’s information that the airport thinks you shouldn’t have, that raises a lot of flags for us.”