By Kathleen Sibley
Advanced Card Technologies of Canada (ACT) wants
provincial governments to move quickly on the opportunity to turn driver's
licences into one-stop-shop biometric ID cards that could be used for a host
of identification purposes.
The organization is responding to the efforts of Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick in lobbying the U.S. to accept enhanced driver's licences as valid documentation to cross the U.S. border rather than requiring passports. The U.S. is now requiring anyone entry the U.S. by air to hold a valid passport.
By Jan. 1, 2008, all visitors to the country via land or sea will similarly be required to show a passport. Developing enhanced driver's licences would require the integration of citizenship data. But that stops short of solving the biggest problem plaguing licences: fraud, says Johnston, president of the Ajax, Ont.-based association.
"I don't see it as a step backwards as much as a step that won't take them where they should go," she says.
Johnston says adding biometrics would enable provinces to cut down on fraud — as long as recipients are required to undergo a new registration process — and share health care information more easily. As well, citizens would be able to access their own records, potentially spotting misuse of their personal information.
Canadians, she says, would embrace a solution that promises an end to the growing list of security breaches that have made the headlines recently.
"Studies show not only are Canadians accepting of biometrics, they prefer they be used wherever they can increase security, but card issuers don't trust that," says Johnston. "They keep saying to me that can't be right."
John Reid, president of the Canadian high-tech organization CATAAlliance, agrees with ACT's proposal.
"Anything that can be done to facilitate trade relations is good," he says. "The big fear in business now is slowing down the speed of transactions or the flow of people across the two markets."
Adding a biometric option to driver's licences is a very workable alternative to the passport, he says.
"We're very supportive of using advanced technology in this way. You're not compromising any of your security requirements and you're using existing technology in personal identification; you're not reinventing any wheels here," says Reid.
But not everyone sees it that way. Bill Munson, vice-president of ITAC, another Canadian IT organization, says there is no real justification for putting citizenship information on a document that is used as a permit to drive a vehicle.
"There's a general concern around function creep," says Munson. "Driver's licences are a provincial token for provincial purposes and citizenship is not one of those purposes, so using a driver's licence to declare citizenship status seems like an odd way to go about things, because you don't have to be a citizen to drive a car."
Most drivers most days are not going to be crossing the border, he adds. "So having them cart around on a daily basis a card with all that information even if it's encrypted does increase the risk."