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Biometrics eyed for border
U.S. anti-terror officials to meet with ICBC this week

The Vancouver Province | January 30, 2007
David Carrigg

U.S. anti-terror officials are to meet with the Insurance Corp. of B.C. this week to discuss the introduction of high-tech biometric driver's licences as an alternative to passports.

"They'll be heading north on [Thursday] to discuss the [biometric-licence] plan with our Canadian counterparts," said Kristin Jacobsen, spokeswoman for Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.

She said Department of Homeland Security officials will meet with the Washington government and its licensing department before going to Victoria to meet with ICBC and B.C. government officials.

The meetings are a result of work by the B.C.-Washington Working Group. It is trying to find ways to delay a U.S. government plan requiring everyone, including Americans, to have a passport to enter the U.S. starting in January 2008. Starting last week, all air travellers to the U.S. must have a passport.

U.S. visitor John Poore, 35, of Portland, Ore., who drove to Vancouver with his wife Erin, said yesterday he is "absolutely" in favour of using biometrics on a driver's licence.

"[It's] so much easier than a passport," he said. "No worry of identity theft.

"Actually, we use it now to get into work," added Poore, who uses his thumbprint to get access to his laptop. "I think it's easier than having to reset a computer every 90 days or whatever it is. I like no muss, no fuss."

Poore has a passport, but his wife doesn't.

She also backs biometrics on a driver's licence.

"I think that sounds a lot easier," said Erin, 31. "It's probably a lot cheaper."

Craig Hare is from New Hampshire and also drove to B.C.

"I don't have a passport so I would definitely be in favour of [biometrics]," said Hare, 28.

"I just don't know how much capital it would cost the American government to implement. But overall, I'd say it's a good idea."

Last summer Premier Gordon Campbell and Gregoire sent a letter to the U.S. and Canadian governments urging a delay in introducing new passport requirements.

"There is no proof that requiring passports is going to improve border security," Campbell said at the time. "Uncertainty over the passport requirements is already having a negative impact on cross-border [travel]."

B.C.and Washington have a combined population of 10 million and more than $10 billion a year in cross-border trade. It's estimated a quarter of visitors during the 2010 Winter Olympics will come to Vancouver through Washington.

Jacobsen said the working group, which is looking at technology that might avoid the need to have passports for identification, is focusing on biometric technology that can be used on a standard driver's licence.

Biometrics refers to technologies that use a person's distinguishing traits as the ultimate form of identification.

To date, scanners have been equipped to recognize such traits as fingerprints, the face, retinas and the geometry of the hand. The technology being explored by the working group and the Department of Homeland Security is facial recognition. Facial recognition is considered a less intrusive form of bio-recognition.

"[Homeland Security] are interested," Jacobsen said. "They'll head up to B.C. to talk about the plan."

In B.C., licence photos were upgraded a decade ago with digital systems to shoot and store them, but biometrics have not been used.

A biometric licence would likely cost about $25 a year more than the current licence.

ICBC spokesman Doug Henderson would not confirm the Thursday meeting.

He said ICBC has been studying the biometric driver's licence concept and monitoring what other provinces are doing. Manitoba and Ontario are considering adding biometric data to driver's licences and health cards.

B.C. information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis has no problem with biometric licences.

"I've got an open mind on biometrics," he said. "They can, in fact, by securing identification, actually arguably protect privacy in terms of identity theft by making it tougher for people to forge your ID."

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