ACTA discusses release of Canadian ePassport in 2012; says Passport Canada looking for suggestions to earn more revenue
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) has recently released an article to discuss its position on ePassports in Canada. The article, which highlights points made at a recent Tourism and Travel Passport Services roundtable event, explains Passport Canada’s plan to release the ePassport in 2012.
ACTA took part in the Tourism and Travel Passport Services roundtable event hosted by Passport Canada on May 17 in Ottawa, to explain and solicit input for its ePassport Initiative. ACTA spoke on behalf of more than 2,200 travel agency and allied members.
ACTA’s statement reads as follows:
The meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule which states that neither the affiliation nor the identity of the speakers may be revealed. In that spirit, ACTA is not able to release details, ideas and opinion discussed at the meeting or name the contributors.
Canada’s ePassport is scheduled for release in 2012. ACTA is behind 70 other countries, including the EU, in the issuing of ePassports. One of the major reasons for this is lack of funds for Passport Canada.
What is an ePassport?
An ePassport contains an electronic chip which can record various things about the bearer. In Canada’s case, the ePassport will look almost identical to the passports we now have, except for a small symbol on the cover denoting that it is an electronic document.
The digital chip is embedded in the back cover of the passport and will not be visible. In Canada’s case, this chip will contain only the information which is now readable on page two of the current passport. The big difference is that the chip will contain a copy of the photograph in the passport and that photo will be scannable by face recognition software.
Face recognition is used by all countries using the ePassport, although some of these nations also include ID such as fingerprints. Canada will rely only on face recognition – a scan of a person’s face will register precise measurements of things like the distance between the eyes of the subject.
Switching to the ePassport
Information on passports can be captured and even stored by other nations; there is no international convention preventing or limiting another nation’s use of information captured from the passport and, in the future, the ePassport.
ACTA's statement went on to say that a key point for the travel industry is that ePassport will be issued for 10 years instead of the current five years in Canada. Most other nations issue their ePassports for 10 years but a few provide options such as an old-style passport issued for five years. Britain’s ePassport is now issued for 10.5 years to cover the period of six months before expiry that can bar travel to some countries.
However, Canada may continue to issue an old-style passport good for five years after release of the new ePassport in 2012.
Children will have passports with much shorter terms. For instance, very young children may get passports good for three years because of the change in the structures of their faces and because guardianship and parental issues may arise.
There was a suggestion at the recent roundtable that children would remain listed on their parent’s ePassport until the child is 18 to reduce cost of producing ePassports for younger children.
Passport Canada seeks new ways to produce revenue
From other information, ACTA's statement said it knows that Passport Canada loses money on each passport it prints. Passport Canada is a government agency but it operates on a cost-recovery model. This means the agency gets no funding from government and must pay for all its operations out of the revenues it receives from selling passports to Canadians. As well, the government takes $25 out of the revenue for each passport and deposits it in the government’s general revenues, even though the government claims it is putting these funds into ‘consular services’.
Consular services are responsible for helping Canadians abroad including repatriating Canadians stranded abroad by natural calamities, business failures and other causes.
At the roundtable, Passport Canada’s top echelon made it clear that they are looking for ways to produce more revenue. The agency would be willing to consider partnerships, advertising opportunities such as including commercial information in passport mailouts, and so on. The agency might produce, for example, business ePassports containing a much larger number of pages than the current 24-page passports. Such ePassports could have a premium price to subsidize family ePassports with fewer pages.
ACTA's statement said that almost any suggestion for revenue generation will be considered by Passport Canada but the suggestion will have to have a strong business case and an ethical stance behind it to be accepted.
ACTA also invited all members to consider what they would like to see happen in regard to Canada’s ePassport and provided examples of possible suggestions.
Suggestions, as detailed in ACTA's statement, might include:
- Partnerships with Passport Canada: According to ACTA, it has been suggested that Passport Canada consider working with travel agencies to help consumers complete applications properly. Agencies would require a fee for this service but this fee would be paid by Passport Canada. Entitlement – the security part of issuing a passport – would have to remain in Passport Canada’s hands. Passport Canada currently has 35 regional offices across Canada serving about 90 percent of the population and consumers can submit applications online so this kind of partnership may be extremely limited and possibly necessary only in more remote areas. Other partnerships may be possible such as joint advertising ventures.
- Passport up-sells: ACTA also said that another suggestion is that Passport Canada provide a business type of ePassport with many more pages available for visa and other stamps. This ePassport could be more durable as well since it would have to withstand 10 years of hard use. A free replacement epassport might be included in the price. The price for such a premium ePassport would be considerably higher than a standard ePassport with revenues used to subsidize standard, family and children’s epassports.
- Phasing in of epassports prior to 2012: With 2012 in the near future, it might be possible to accelerate business style ePassports or others (Canada already issues ePassports to diplomats). This could offset some of a problem at the five-year mark of the 10-year ePassport when Passport Canada expects a large drop-off in the demand for new passports.
- Scrapping of an optional five-year passport: ACTA sait that at this time, there likely will be an optional five-year standard passport available even after the 10-year ePassport is introduced. Politicians are demanding this option but there seems no good reason to continue this short-term passport. Only a small number of countries with the ePassport still offer a short-term passport at a less expensive price, except to children. A short term passport can present problems to travel agencies when customers fail to renew their passports for upcoming journeys.
- Introduction of a Passport card: Passports often are used as a means of identification by law even though travel is not involved. Passport Canada has long considered creating a wallet-sized card to be used, instead of the whole passport, as a means of identification apart from entering or leaving a country.
- Revenue generation for Passport Canada: There may be ways in which Passport Canada can generate additional revenue by working with travel agencies to provide or facilitate extra services or incentives for consumers or businesses.
- Reform of Passport Canada’s funding: The government takes $25 from each passport sold, for a total of $95 million per year, and, while claiming this funds consular services, places the money in general revenues (the government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund). Consular Services receives only $70 million in funding from general revenues leaving $25 million in government hands for services that may have nothing to do with travel, consular services and relief of stranded travellers or Canadians in trouble abroad. This makes it difficult for Passport Canada to keep up with the rest of the industrial world – Canada does not have an ePassport and yet requires ePassports from citizens of at least two nations for admittance to this country.
ACTA will continue to obtain and to pass on information about the ePassport.
Agents interested in contacting ACTA with their thoughts on the ePassport can e-mail email@example.com.