August 7, 2018 – Canadians want IRCC to strike a balance between convenience and safeguards for data security and privacy when creating a next-generation replacement for the existing Passport.
The existing paper booklet made machine readable by an electronic chip fitted to its back cover, may be eventually replaced by a mobile or even a virtual passport.
A mobile passport, currently in use in the USA, involves creation of an official mobile app that will have the holder’s encrypted passport data stored on it. To travel abroad, an individual will just have to show the unique bar code associated with his/her passport to the immigration officer at the border.
A virtual passport involves a more complicated setup where the traveler retains the existing paper booklet but uses it just once at the airport check-in. Facial recognition technology will automatically track, identify, and verify the details of the traveler at all subsequent points where the passport is required to be presented.
The public opinion research also covered the renewal process, which currently requires all citizens to send new forms, photos, and references to Passport Canada once every five or ten years.
The idea of a passport renewal app found the greatest support while most participants in the 15 focus groups preferred the mobile passport over the virtual option.
Beyond the passport itself, other recommendations and suggestions regarding use of mobile app to simplify foreign travel included using an app for:
- Customs eDeclaration
- Sharing travel advisories
- Official currency conversion calculators
- Detailed information about the requirements of various visas, and
- Option of registering with foreign Canadian embassies and consulates.
A passport is treated as the most reliable proof of an individual’s identity. Participants sought to balance benefits like more convenient foreign travel with risks like malicious use and fraud. This frequently occurs through hacking or release of private information stored on the mobile app.
Rejection of the virtual passport went beyond just fear of new technologies among the older participants with even millennials worrying about whether the virtual passport would be safe from hackers.
Protection of private data, especially unchangeable information like date of birth or biometric information, was the top priority for most participants even as they recognized the convenience of storing their passport on a secure cell phone app.
A majority of Canadians seem comfortable with the idea of having an app to renew passports. Concerns about data privacy, fears of surveillance and unrestricted sharing of private information weighed over the advantages of using a virtual passport.
While the existing passport is unlikely to be discarded anytime soon, advantages and benefits of having a mobile app for facilitating smoother travel for citizens and even permanent and temporary residents are too numerous to be completely ignored.
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