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April 02, 2006

Though shalt not pass

Andrew Coyne on the Americans soon requiring passports of all who wish to enter:

What are we going to do?

The options are unappetizing. Passports are cumbersome to obtain and bulky to carry. Anyone who has sat through the lineup in their local passport office can imagine the chaos if suddenly they were joined by millions of would-be day trippers.

Yet what is the alternative? A national ID card? Think of the expense -- from the people who brought you the gun registry -- not to say the privacy concerns. A souped-up driver's licence or health card, using the latest biometric and other security measures? How? Reissue everyone with new ones? Or stamp a chip into the one you have now?

I'll tell you what we should do: everything possible to try to convince the Americans to back off, but failing that, not much. There's no point designing a new form of identification when we have perfectly good passports that cost all of $87. I suppose they're "bulkier to carry" than a driver's license, but in the grand scheme of things they're both pretty non-bulky. Canadians who do business in the US either own them already or they will shortly — they're not going to shut down operations sooner than drop 90 bones. And if Canadian tourists refuse to shell out, well, that's good news for the Canadian tourism industry, isn't it?

The kind of American who wouldn't dream of dropping $97 on a passport is the kind of American who wouldn't even know that this new requirement was in place. Lots of people enter the US from Canada without being asked for any identification whatsoever — I'd say I'm only asked about a third of the time, and I don't look all that respectable — and I've not heard that this new "requirement" for passports will mean that all southbound border-crossers will be asked to produce one every single time. There's certainly no reason Canada has to demand passports from northbound crossers, even officially.

Americans heading south without their passports will eventually, of course, get home. They're not just going to ship them all off to Guantanamo. And if enough of them insist on showing up armed only with their driver's licenses, while in the meantime Canadians have armed themselves with passports, then it's the Americans who are going to have the biggest logistical problem on their hands. Coyne is quite right about the burden this is going to put on the already glacial passport office, but that can be addressed by adding more staff. One way or the other, it's not the big deal some are making it out to be.

Posted by Chris Selley at April 2, 2006 12:44 AM

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I agree - what's the big deal??? It's not THAT slow to get a passport - take a book to read and there you go.

Posted by: Jason at April 3, 2006 04:41 PM

I also don't understand the implicit assumption that while Passports are slow and difficult to obtain (not really, but that 's the assumption) the new super-ID card will be a breeze. If they are quick and easy to obtain they will be worthless - even if we accept that proof of identity provides proof of intent - since the reliability of the identification will be suspect. In addition, if they are to be used for admittance into the US, are we going to equip the American INS with the scanners (chip readers, or what-have-you) to validate the cards? If they are based on biometric identification, is the INS going to have (or have access to) the Canadian or provincial databases of iris scans or facial identification characteristics? We have privacy groups (and the unions who see jobs moving to North Carolina) screaming now about US access to data when Medical records are processed in the US - how are they going to react to full integration into the pervasive Canadian ID system?

If we are NOT going to allow such access to the INS, why will the super-ID cards be worth anything to them; if they can't be verified then they are that much easier to forge since the forger only had to re-create the physical characteristics, and not the data characteristics of the card. The are a bad, stupid, pointless, distracting idea. The sooner they are given the heave-ho the better.

Posted by: DCardno at April 3, 2006 07:59 PM