Canada Beginning to Use Biometric Passports Along with G8 Countries

PassportIn the next five years, ninety-percent of passports worldwide will contain integrated circuit (IC) chips that hold their carrier’s biometric data (IMS Research, 2011). Canada recently announced that their ePassports will be ready by 2012, making them the last G8 country to include digital security measures on their documents. The United States’ “secure borders, open doors” visa waiver policy encouraged many EU countries to fast-track their ePassport development so that their citizens could take advantage of the visa waiver program. While Canadian citizens are able to travel without visas in the United States, the ability to efficiently protect passport holders from fraud and keep airports safe was a major push for the Canadian government.

The security benefits of biometrics are universally apparent. The internal systems on the IC chips placed in the passports make it incredibly difficult for criminals to covertly read or alter the information that they contain (CNET, 2011), but the technology isn’t perfect. For instance, we have yet to see how the unavoidable wear and tear of passports will counter the effectiveness of the IC chips placed in the passports. The U.S. policy requires that international visitors carry “only machine-readable, tamper-resistant visas and other travel and entry documents that use biometric identifiers” (U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, 2011), but how will a traveler know ahead of time if their chip is no longer machine-readable?

Clearme is a great example of how biometric technology can have added benefits to the traveler as well as airport security officials. Clearme is using biometrics to help travelers speed through security in airports. However, having finger or palm prints taken or irises scanned takes the traveler’s participation to stop and be scanned. Facial recognition, however, is a biometric that can capture travelers’ identities as they are coming and going, without any effort on their part, making it an even faster solution for airport security. As airports and border control officials are challenged to define safe, secure and non-invasive measures to ease travelers' journeys, it will be interesting to see how the technology and associated policies evolve even further.