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British Columbia Drivers May Carry RFID Licenses in 2008

If Canada's federal government approves a proposal from British Columbia, drivers in the province may begin testing RFID-enabled licenses at Washington state border crossings as soon as January.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 09, 2007Washington State has decided to issue driver's licenses with RFID transponders in them (see Washington Driver's Licenses to Carry EPC Gen 2 Inlays). But next January, residents of "the Evergreen State" might not be the only ones crossing the U.S.-Canada border with RFID-enabled driver's licenses.

The government of British Columbia is awaiting approval from Canada's federal government regarding a proposal to embed RFID inlays in driver's licenses issued to residents of British Columbia, as part of a voluntary program that will begin in January and run in tandem with the Washington State initiative. Canada's federal public safety minister, Stockwell Day, supports the measure to test the technology and is expected to approve it soon.

John van Dongen
"We have, in front of the Federal government, a draft of the memorandum of agreement that will parallel the one that U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Washington Governor Chris Gregoire signed March 23, 2007," says John van Dongen, B.C.'s minister of state for intergovernmental relations.

The licenses would provide residents of British Columbia with an alternative to presenting a Canadian passport to agents at the Canadian border, which will be required by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative's land and sea border-crossing requirements, set for enactment in 2009.

The licenses would be more affordable than Canadian passports, and both B.C. and Washington State expect the long-range, UHF inlay embedded in the licenses to facilitate speedier security checks than the current system, in which residents hand identification documents to border agents upon reaching a border checkpoint.

Neither country's border agency has released the final procedures for how the RFID-enabled cards will be read at border crossings, but both van Dongen and Paul Hunter, a representative of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Information Technology, say the steps will be similar to how the CBP and the Canadian Border Services Agency process travelers carrying the RFID-enabled cards used in the NEXUS program. NEXUS is designed to expedite border crossings for area residents of the United States and Canada who cross the U.S.-Canada border frequently.

Currently, RFID interrogators mounted at designated NEXUS automobile checkpoint lanes read the identification number encoded to the inlay embedded in each card when a driver is waiting at a stop sign just before an agent's booth. This number is used to automatically call up the name, image, address and other personal data of the driver (and any passengers inside the car carrying RFID-enabled NEXUS cards) from a secure database each border agency maintains.

By the time the car reaches the agent's booth, all pertinent data on the NEXUS cardholders is called up on the agent's computer screen. The agent then conducts a short interview before allowing the car to pass, as long as no security threat is detected. (NEXUS program participants must submit to an extensive background check, and are only granted admission into the program if they are deemed a low security risk.)

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