CCRA eyes scanning technology for customs clearance

The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s much-discussed CANPASS program, which allows low-risk travellers to get through customs quickly, was recently rolled out at Vancouver International Airport.

“It allows people who

are frequent travellers who have been assessed to be low risk to go through Customs much more quickly,” says CCRA spokesperson Dawna-Lyn LaBonté. “They don’t have to go to a Customs officer unless they have something specific to declare.””

To enroll in the program, travellers have to apply, pay $50 and undergo an extensive background check. Their irises are scanned and used as identification each time they go through the kiosks, says LaBonté. “They just go up to the booth and get their iris recognition done, answer a few questions about their trip, give a sheet of paper to the agent and then they’re off, so it’s a lot faster.”

CANPASS-Air is a partnership between the CCRA and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The program runs on technology from Bedford, N.H.-based Imaging Automation, which is also used to scan passports at 40 border points across Canada.

According to Dalton Hall, senior director of travel and transportation at IA, the iA-thenticate platform is a device that captures an image of a document, such as a passport. While it’s capturing the image, it’s shooting a series of light sources at it in order to find the anomalies that would indicate the passport has been falsified or tampered with. “It can detect copies or tampers, it can detect if numbers are not in sequence,” says Hall. As well, he adds, it can look for patterns and different security features embedded in documents that are very difficult for forgers to recreate. If it finds something, it sends the user an alert. It can also search the system to see if the person is on some type of watch list.

“It’s interesting because you can’t really see what’s going on inside the desk,” says Hall. “There’s a person looking at your passport. They put it on the reader and pull it off and if they don’t hand it back to you that’s probably a problem, but they’re looking to see if the system has detected any alert messages. Once it does all the tests and it gives the alert, the document is captured and stored in a database, and it can be retrieved remotely enterprise-wide. Before it was just a visual inspection.”

Hall says in one pilot project that ran at Boston’s Logan Airport last year, he was watching people lined up to go through Customs for international flights. “You would see individuals peeking around and looking to see why people ahead of them were handing over their passports,” he says. “As they got closer they were noticing that something was being done with the passport – then we’d look up and they’d be gone.”

According to CCRA Minister Elinor Caplan, who spoke at a Supply Chain and Logistics Canada lunch in Toronto recently, the program will be expanded to seven more airports over 2004 as part of Canada’s effort to improve security and make it easier for the $2 billion-a-day cross border trade business as well as for the 102 million travellers entering Canada each year.

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