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High tech license would allow border crossing without passport
Toronto Globe and Mail


August 21, 2007

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- British Columbia and Washington State are moving to issue high-tech driver's licenses designed to let drivers cross the border without a passport, a move that could cut short fears that more restrictive rules at the U.S.-Canada border will crimp tourism.

The Canadian half of that initiative hasn't received formal approval from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but premiers and governors see the B.C.-Washington project as a way to prevent a damaging slowdown in tourism after mid-2009, when travelers by land and water will be required to present passports.

Ontario and Alberta are looking to follow B.C.'s move, and New York and Michigan are watching the Washington pilot project, which is set to start in January. British Columbia is targeting the same month to launch its licenses, which will be designed to mirror the technology of those issued by Washington.

The licenses will have computer chips with radio transmitters that will broadcast an identification number linked to a computer database, allowing border officials to flag anyone who should not be allowed across the border, although officials say that the licenses will not link directly to personal data. The Washington licenses also have bar codes, and before one is issued, advanced biometrics will be used to check an applicant's face against those of existing license holders to guard against duplication and fraud.

With the start date just five months away, British Columbia is still waiting for a formal verdict from the federal government that the documents will meet Canadian border rules, and from Homeland Security that the provincial license will be sufficient to get Canadians into the United States. Already, the need to have passports for air travel is hurting tourism, and with the 2010 Winter Olympics approaching, British Columbia needs to ensure that cross-border travel is not inhibited, said John van Dongen, B.C.'s minister of state for intergovernmental relations. "We need to get certainty, to work toward closure on this."

There are hopeful signs. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has signed a memorandum of understanding that gives tentative approval for the Washington license, and says that other states can follow suit. B.C. has followed Washington's approach, and van Dongen said he is optimistic that Homeland Security will endorse the province's licenses.

Antonio Ginatta, policy adviser to Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, said he has been told that progress has been made in talks between Homeland Security and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Other provinces are starting to move in the same direction. Van Dongen said seven others have expressed interest, with Ontario and Alberta the most willing to take action. Ontario Minister of Transportation Donna Cansfield said that Ontario is keenly interested in the B.C. approach, and that her province would aim to establish similar agreements with New York and Michigan. "Maybe we can build on that."


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