Canada has begun the process of procuring millions of electronic passports and plans to start issuing them in 2012. Canada’s ePassport will contain a “proximity contactless chip” that can only be read if it’s held within 10 centimetres of a reader and the machine-readable zone on page two has been scanned first. The chip will have the holder’s name, sex and date and place of birth, along with a digital photo of the bearer’s face. To verify ones identity, customs officials will match the information on the chip with the printed information and picture in the passport.
A June report by Acuity Market Intelligence predicted that by 2014, Canada will be the world’s ninth-largest issuer of ePassports, behind India, the United States, China, Brazil, Britain, the Philippines, Japan and France. By that same year, the top-10 ePassport countries will be spending $2.7 billion to purchase 77 million documents annually, says the Acuity report. Between them, they’ll account for 59 per cent of the ePassport market.
At least 90 countries will be offering ePassports by the end of this year, including almost all European nations. That will grow to 104 countries by 2014.
“So it appears not to be just a request for a book. It seems to be more of an issuance capability as well,” Pattinson said. “But it’s not entirely defined yet.”
Some ePassports include additional biometric information, such as fingerprints or iris scans, which could raise privacy concerns.
But Passport Canada says the only biometric information on Canada’s ePassport will be a photo of the holder’s face. Everything else on the chip will be identical to the information visible to the naked eye on page two of printed passports.
The risk that hackers will be able to “skim” personal details from ePassports has receded as governments have beefed up security measures.
“There are no concerns, in my view, of skimming if it’s done correctly,” said Pattinson, who advised the U.S. State Department on how to protect personal information on ePassports.
While there were reports a few years ago of some ePassports being compromised or badly configured, “none of ours have been subject to any questions to date,” Pattinson said.
Passport Canada originally planned to introduce electronic passports next year, but that’s been pushed back to 2012, said a spokeswoman.
The agency is now in the process of determining what it will charge for ePassports and how long they’ll remain valid. An adult passport now costs $87 and is valid for five years.
Those fees will likely rise for ePassports, and validity could be extended to as much as 10 years.