The Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA) has released a report about Canada’s plans to introduce ePassports in 2012. ACTA, representing travel agency members across Canada recently took part in the Tourism and Travel Passport Services Roundtable Event hosted by Passport Canada to explain and solicit input for its ePassport Initiative.
Canada will not be an early adapter in introducing ePassports. Seventy other countries, including the EU, are already issuing their own versions of ePassports. One of the major reasons for this is lack of funds for Passport Canada.
An ePassport contains an electronic chip which can record various facts about the bearer. In Canada’s case, the ePassport will look almost identical to the passports we now carry with the exception of a small symbol on the cover denoting that it is an electronic document. The digital chip is embedded in the back cover of the passport and will not be visible. In Canada’s case, this chip will contain only the information which is now readable on Page 2 of the current passport.
The most significant difference is that the chip will contain a copy of the photograph in the passport and that photo will be scannable by face recognition software. Face recognition is used by all countries using ePassports and some of these nations could also include fingerprints or iris scans as ID. Canada will rely only on face recognition since each person’s face is as unique as a fingerprint.
Information on the passport can be captured and even stored by other nations; there is no international convention preventing or even limiting another nation’s use of information captured from any passport.
Canadian ePassports will be issued for 10 years instead of the current five years. However, apparently some politicians insist that Canada should continue to issue old-style passports, valid for five years even after release of the new ePassports. There was a strong suggestion at the roundtable that Passport Canada not provide this option.
Children will have passports with shorter terms. For instance, very young children may get passports good for three years because of the change in the structures of their faces and because guardianship and parental issues may arise. There is a suggestion that children could remain listed on their parent’s ePassport until the child is 18 to reduce costs.
Passport Canada actually loses money on each passport it prints. Passport Canada is a government agency but it operates on a cost-recovery model and receives no funding from government. $25 of the revenue from the sale of each passport is designated for consular services… to cover costs of assisting or repatriating Canadians abroad who have lost their documents or are stranded by natural calamities, business failures and insurrections.
Passport Canada’s top echelon has made it clear that they are looking for ways to produce more revenue and may consider partnerships and including promotional inserts in their passport mailouts as well as enhanced passport products with a greater number of pages suitable for frequent business travellers.