Canadians could be spending a lot more than $87 for a passport when the new, electronic versions come out next year.
The first version issued to top government officials and diplomats carries a hefty price tag, if an expense claim filed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an indication — with the price of the so-called e-passport pegged at $225. The cost of e-passports for Harper and his family was picked up by taxpayers.
Passport Canada, in an email response to CBCNews.ca, said Monday the group was in the midst of consulting Canadians on e-passports.
"No decisions have yet been made on the price of the new electronic passport," wrote Béatrice Fénelon, a spokesperson for the department.
Diplomatic e-passports are valid for five years, just like the current standard versions. Government officials say a new fee schedule for the e-passports will be out this fall.
A similar passport with a chip in the U.S. costs $135 and is valid for 10 years.
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The main difference in the e-passport is the inclusion of a computer chip that stores key personal data that can be accessed with a scanner. According to Passport Canada, the chip contains the holder's photo and has "a country-specific signature that proves the passport was issued by the Government of Canada.
"The visible photo must match the photo stored on the chip, as well as the ghost photo printed in ultraviolet ink."
The government said the chip adds another layer of security and will reduce the risk of fraud. It will be electronically locked.
"This means that even if someone were able to tamper with the data on the chip, the chip would indicate that the lock had been broken and the fraud would be detected," said Passport Canada.
The photo in the chip will be in a .jpg format, allowing facial recognition software to be used where it is available. No additional information will be stored on the chip, beyond the photo and the information now contained on Page 2 of the current passports.
Readers will be put in Passport Canada's 34 offices so Canadians can check the information stored on their chips.
Security not an issue
Passport Canada points out that at least 95 other countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., use the e-passport with "no reported chip failures."
"Through a pilot project that began in January 2009, Passport Canada has already issued more than 40,000 diplomatic and special passports containing the chip, and no difficulties have been reported," the department said on its website.
"In the unlikely event that the chip cannot be read, the passport will still be valid. It will still contain all the security features of the current non-electronic Canadian passport."
The U.S. has been issuing only e-passports since 2007. The U.S. Department of State acknowledges that there are threats to the chips, including skimming (unauthorized reading of e-passports), and cloning.
In the case of skimming, a blocking material is added and a complex chip-reading protocol used. The removal and cloning of a chip is possible, the department admits on its website.
"However, the simplest way to mitigate this threat is to verify that the chip data belongs to the presented e-passport. This can be done by comparing the data stored on the chip to data on the e-passports data-page," it states.