The CanPass Air program, which uses iris recognition technology to speed Canadian frequent travelers through customs, has been expanded to the Edmonton International Airport, with Ottawa next on the expansion list.

Operated by the Canada

Border Services Agency, CanPass air debuted in Vancouver in July of 2003, and is also in place in Calgary, Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg.

The systems integrator for the kiosks is IBM, with Rycom Inc., Canadian representative for Iridian Technologies, providing the software.

CBSA spokesperson Loretta Nyhus said response to the CanPass Air program from the traveling public has been very positive.

“The travelers who are members, and typically they are frequent travelers, are very happy with the program.” said Nyhus. “They bypass what can be lengthy line-ups when they come through customs and immigration.”

The program currently has over 9,000 members nationally. To apply, an application form can be downloaded from the CBSA Web site, and submitted along with supporting identification and a $50 processing fee.

Nyhus said before approval, each individual is subject to rigorous security and background checks. They’re also called into the enrolment centre at their nearest airport for a final interview before approval.

“The intention behind the program is to look at innovative ways of facilitating low-risk travelers through customs and immigration, which allows our resources to concentrate their efforts on potentially higher-risk travelers,” said Nyhus.

When they come in for the final interview, digital black and white photos of each iris are also taken, and stored in CBSA’s central database.

When a CanPass member returns to Canada, they can go to the kiosk where a digital photo is taken of their eye. That photo is compared with the one in the database to make a positive identification, and allow the traveler to complete their declaration at the kiosk. While they may still be flagged for secondary screening, Nyhus said while the standard customs wait time is about 20 minutes. It is less then a minute with CanPass.

Nyhus said iris technology was chosen because it is more robust then the alternatives, and offers 266 different characteristics for comparison, as opposed to about 90 for fingerprint technology.

“It examines the unique patterns of the iris, and they don’t change in any position,” said Nyhus. “Even if you’ve had a few too may drinks on the plane, it still won’t change the iris.”

Sapna Capoor, a biometrics analyst with Frost & Sullivan in London, U.K., said while the U.S. will soon requiring biometric passports for visitors from 27 visa waiver countries, common standards on biometrics have yet to be agreed too, and a combination of fingerprint, iris and facial recognition technology could become the norm.

The AFIS program, or Automated Fingerprint Identification System, is one standard that is already in place and being used. Currently two-fingerprint passports are being used, moving to 10 down the road. Capoor said facial recognition is leading the pack though, since everyone already has a photograph on his or her passport, making it really just an upgrade.

“Fingerprints have criminal connotations, so there is reticence to integrating fingerprint biometrics technology into passports,” said Capoor. “What we’ll probably see moving forward will be a combination of face and fingerprint; that’s currently the trend in Europe.”


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