June 1st: Passport required for travel to the U.S.

[May 23, 2009 04:34 PM]

On Monday, June 1st, Canadians travelling to, from or via the U.S. by land and sea must present at U.S. Customs, a valid passport or an approved document containing an RFID (Radio-frequency identification) chip or biometric data.

The requirement is the final stage of the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and part of the Security Prosperity Partnership agreement between Canada and the U.S. that has never been debated or agreed to by Parliament.

The WHTI approved documents include the passport, an EDL with U.S. Homeland Security imposed RFID technology, and the Nexus card which contains biometric data (iris and face digital photos). There is also the FAST card for truck drivers, carriers, and importers, which requires a risk-assessment investigation valid for travel by land only.

Canadians travellers should keep in mind that a passport is the only universally accepted identification document. It also proves that the holder has a right to return to Canada, a protection not offered by a driver's licence.

Civil society organizations - from consumers to privacy and civil liberties groups - are calling for a moratorium on EDLs until the House of Commons has fully studied and debated the issue and urging Canadians to use a passport.

British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba and Québec are rolling out EDLs but Alberta, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have opted out of the program citing privacy and security reasons, while Nova Scotia is reconsidering whether to go ahead or not.

"EDLs will not make us safer from terrorism, they will not ease traffic flow at the border, but they create significant privacy concerns related to flawed technology and dangerous information sharing agreements with the U.S. and other governments," warned Roch Tassé of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

In her annual report released on May 13, 2009, Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian noted: "The security and privacy concerns associated with using RFID technology for human identification are well known and have been echoed by many authorities and technology experts."

Recent media reports, in Canada and the U.S., have shown that the licences can be read when out of sight and at a distance for surreptitious tracking, raising serious safety and privacy questions.

Catherine Johnston, CEO of the Advanced Card Technologies Association of Canada has also questioned the technology used in the EDLs as the RFID tag embedded in the card can easily be read by unauthorized readers and could be used to covertly track the owner's activities and movements.